Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on March 31, 2017

Published on April 3, 2017 12:36 pm by Piotr Banasiak in Appeals Blog

Criminal Case Summaries:

  • People v Henderson (KA 12-02153) – 4AD reserves decision and remits this case for further proceedings for a second time. On D’s first appeal, 4AD remitted the matter for a hearing on D’s motion to withdraw his plea, which was based on D’s claim that counsel had advised him that he could withdraw his plea at any time before sentencing. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. On remand, D’s trial attorney testified, but the lower court precluded D from testifying and did not rule on the motion. 4AD finds this was error. D’s testimony was important, because trial counsel’s testimony contradicted in some respects the allegations D made in his motion, and D’s testimony was necessary to resolve the resulting credibility issue. The preclusion of D’s testimony denied him a reasonable opportunity to advance his claims.
  • People v McFadden (KA 13-00434) – 4AD reduces, in the interest of justice, D’s 60-year aggregate sentence imposed for his convictions of first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree criminal sexual act. 4AD explains that the sentence is harsh and severe, particularly in light of the 10-year sentence offer that was made by the court shortly before trial.
  • People v Melvin (KA 15-01099) – 4AD reverses D’s convictions because he pled guilty to a superior court information (SCI) that did not contain the same charges as the felony complaint. The felony complaint charged D with assaults occurring on December 23, 2014, while the SCI charged him with assaults occurring on December 3, 2014. 4AD finds that D waived only his right to be indicted on the assault charges from December 23rd. 4AD rejects the argument that the date discrepancy can be dismissed as a mere typographical error, because it is not “obvious” or “clear” that the discrepancy is in fact the result of such an error.
  • People v Tan (KA 16-01381) – 4AD dismisses the People’s appeal from an order that granted D’s motion for a trial order of dismissal on one count of second-degree murder. The lower court reserved on the TOD motion at the close of the evidence, and the jury then failed to reach a verdict after 8 days of deliberations. The court declared a mistrial and stated that it continued to reserve on the TOD motion. At the next court appearance, the court granted the TOD motion. 4AD finds that the People’s appeal must be dismissed because there is no statutory authority for an appeal under these circumstances. CPL 450.20 (2) does not apply, because the lower court did not set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment pursuant to CPL 290.10 (1) (b)—i.e., the court did not grant the TOD motion after the jury rendered a guilty verdict. 4AD notes that, if it were able to review the order, it would find that the lower court erred in dismissing the indictment.

Family Law Case Summaries:

  • Matter of Baby B.W. (CAF 15-01804) – In this neglect matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order which found that the father had neglected his child. The father used illegal drugs along with the mother during her pregnancy, and the child was born with a positive toxicology for crack cocaine and marijuana. The lower court found that the father’s drug use contributed to the mother’s use of drugs during her pregnancy. 4AD concludes that the child was placed in imminent danger based on the positive toxicology, the father’s substance abuse history, his failure to submit to drug tests, as well as his mental health issues, which he has failed to adequately address through treatment and medication. 4AD notes that, even if the lower court’s neglect finding was not based on the positive toxicology, it is not precluded from upholding the order on that basis, as its own authority to review the facts is as broad as Family Court’s.
  • Matter of Madelynn T. (CAF 15-01702) – In this termination of parental rights case, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order which found that the mother abandoned the subject child. The mother did not communicate or visit the child for a period of at least 6 months, but argued that her hospitalization and repeated drug use constituted a defense to the claim of abandonment. 4AD first explains that hospitalization does not automatically excuse a parent’s failure to maintain contact, and here, the mother did not provide any supporting evidence to substantiate the severity of her illness or the length of her hospitalization. As such, the mother did not establish that the hospitalization so permeated her life as to make contact infeasible. 4AD similarly concludes that the mother’s vague testimony regarding her drug use also did not establish that it was not feasible to visit or communicate with the subject child.