Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on May 8, 2015
Criminal Case Summaries:
- People v Blocker (KA 11-00315) – 4AD finds that the trial court did not err by denying D’s request for an adverse inference charge regarding the prosecution’s failure to preserve the car D was driving at the time of his arrest. The car was towed to an impound lot but was not held by police as evidence. Because D was the registered owner of the car, he or an authorized representative could have retrieved it from the impound lot at any time. Under these circumstances, 4AD concludes that an adverse inference charge was not warranted because D had the opportunity to recover the car before it was sold at auction about two weeks after D’s arraignment.
- People v Brooks (KA 13-02108) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction, upon a guilty plea, because the plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Before the plea, the prosecutor incorrectly stated that D’s sentence had to run consecutively to a sentence imposed on a previous conviction. That incorrect statement was never corrected by defense counsel or the trial court. 4AD finds reversal is required, even absent preservation, because it is impossible to have confidence that D understood what he was doing when he pled guilty. “Where, as here, ‘the prosecutor, defense counsel and the court all suffered from the same misunderstanding of the [court’s sentencing discretion], it would be unreasonable to conclude that defendant understood it’”.
- People v Hardy (KA 11-00691) – 4AD affirms D’s conviction of second-degree manslaughter, among other crimes. The charges arose when D was fleeing from an attempted petit larceny and collided head-on with a car driven by a woman who had been pregnant for approximately 23 weeks. To save the woman’s life, doctor’s delivered the child by cesarean section. The child was not breathing and did not have a heartbeat, but was resuscitated by doctors. Though the child then had a heartbeat, the parents and doctors decided to remove her from mechanical life support and she died 2½ hours later. 4AD concludes that the evidence of the child’s personhood is legally sufficient. Though the child was less than 24 weeks old, she was born alive, and was thus a “person” within the meaning of Penal Law § 125.05. 4AD explains that despite initially being kept alive by mechanical life support, the child survived for 2½ hours without life support and “without the help of [her] mother’s circulation”.
- People v Juliano (KA 13-00803) – 4AD finds that D’s sentence for first-degree criminal sexual act is harsh and severe, and reduces it to seven years followed by 15 years of postrelease supervision. 4AD notes in particular D’s mental disabilities and lack of a prior criminal record.
- People v Larkins (KA 11-02497) – 4AD affirms D’s conviction of first-degree attempted robbery of a Ramada Inn and finds, among other things, that the trial court properly admitted evidence of a robbery of a Best Western hotel that D committed in another county shortly after the charged attempted robbery. The subsequent robbery was admissible to prove motive and intent, and to complete the narrative of events. The robbery was especially relevant to show intent because defense counsel argued that when D pulled a gun on the Ramada Inn hotel clerk, he only intended to commit the crime of menacing, rather than robbery. 4AD explains that “the jury could conclude, based upon the evidence that the [Best Western] robbery occurred shortly after the [Ramada inn] attempted robbery, that defendant was engaged in ‘a continuous series of transactions’, pursuant to which he first attempted to rob the [Ramada Inn] and, having failed to obtain money during that crime, continued his criminal efforts until he was successful in the [Best Western] robbery.”
- People v Robinson (KA 14-00521) – 4AD finds that the lower court erred in relying on suppressed evidence as a basis for revoking D’s probationary sentence. While D was on probation, he was arrested and then indicted on charges of gun and marijuana possession. He was arraigned on a probation delinquency petition that also alleged that he possessed a gun and marijuana, in addition to several other terms of probation violations. At a combined suppression and violation-of-probation hearing, the lower court suppressed the gun and marijuana, but also found that D violated probation by possessing that contraband, and also violating other terms of probation. 4AD concludes that the lower court could not revoke D’s probationary sentence based on his possession of the unconstitutionally seized evidence. 4AD notes that the Court of Appeals has held that such evidence cannot be utilized at parole revocation hearings, and it follows a fortiori that it cannot be utilized at probation revocation hearings, which are closer to criminal actions than parole revocation hearings. 4AD nevertheless remits for resentencing based on D’s violation of the other terms of his probation.
- People v White (KA 11-00290) – 4AD finds that the lower court properly denied D’s motion to suppress evidence that was seized from his person after he attempted to enter the Hall of Justice in Rochester. D set off the walk-through magnetometer, and when deputies used a hand scanner on D’s body, it indicated there was metal in defendant’s crotch area. When D gave an illogical answer upon being asked if he had any metal on his person, he was pat-frisked, and then he was taken to an adjacent room. Deputies pulled down his pants, and located a foil package, which contained drugs. 4AD finds that based upon the signs posted in the building indicating that entrants would be subjected to a search, D relinquished any reasonable expectation of privacy and impliedly consented to the search. He never revoked that consent, and the scope of his consent was not limited to the scan by the magnetometer or the pat frisk. “Given a reasonable person’s knowledge of the increased security measures in government buildings in the past decade and the notifications posted for entrants into the Hall of Justice, we conclude that a reasonable person would have understood that the impending search could involve more than a pat frisk if the initial magnetometer scans indicated the presence of metal on his or her person”.
Family Law Case Summaries:
- Matter of Rieman v Mills (CAF 13-01776) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD reverses the lower court’s order modifying a prior order and granting sole custody to the father. The lower court granted the father custody at a proceeding where the mother testified, and the court held a Lincoln hearing with the child. The father did not testify. 4AD concludes that while the record showed that the parties’ relationship had deteriorated to the extent that joint custody was no longer workable, it did not contain sufficient evidence to support the award of sole custody to the father. The mother’s testimony raised significant questions as to the father’s fitness, and the father thus failed to establish that the child’s best interests warranted an award of sole custody to him.
- Matter of Carson W. (CAF 14-01596) – In this neglect proceeding, 4AD reverses the lower court’s order, which returned the subject child to the parents following a permanency planning hearing. 4AD concludes that while the parents completed parenting classes and counseling, they made no progress to overcome the specific problems that led to the removal of the child. Specifically, 4AD finds that the parents did not meaningfully acknowledge responsibility for one child’s death, and the other child’s injury. The parents made certain admissions previously, which led to a neglect adjudication. At the permanency planning hearing, the parents told the court that they would ensure the child is safe. A case worker testified, however, that the parents only made admissions because their attorneys told them to do so, and that they failed to take responsibility for the injuries sustained by their children. 4AD determines that the parents’ failure to acknowledge their previous behavior demonstrates that they have a faulty understanding of their parental duties sufficient to infer an ongoing danger to the subject child. 4AD remits the matter for further permanency planning proceedings before a different judge.