Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on November 20, 2015
Criminal Case Summaries:
- People v Dowdell (KA 12-00250) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for second-degree assault based on two errors made by the lower court. First, the lower court erred in admitting evidence of the specific crime for which D was on parole. Although the fact that D was on parole was relevant background information to explain the number of police officers that responded to arrest D, the fact that he had been convicted of attempted third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance was not relevant. Second, the lower court erred in ruling that defense counsel opened the door to testimony pertaining to the circumstances of a police officer’s prior interactions with D. Defense counsel’s cross-examination of the officer was limited to the issue of whether the officer had followed procedures, and did not challenge whether the prior interactions had actually occurred.
- People v Johnson (KA 10-01365) – 4AD affirms D’s conviction for second-degree murder finding, among other things, that the lower court properly denied D’s motion to suppress a DNA swab police collected at the stationhouse from D’s torso. Police satisfied the two requirements for collecting such evidence without a warrant. One, police had reasonable cause to believe that a blood stain constituted evidence. Two, there were exigent circumstances present justifying the immediate collection of the evidence—that is, D could have easily destroyed the evidence.
Family Law Case Summaries:
- Matter of Macri v Brown (CAF 14-01873) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order, which terminated the grandmother’s visitation with the subject child. The child’s mother had previously forfeited custody of the child to the petitioners, on the condition that the grandmother would have visitation with the child. A visitation order was entered, and the petitioners later moved to terminate the grandmother’s visitation. 4AD finds that the lower court properly determined that continued visitation with the grandmother was not in the child’s best interests, due to (1) the grandmother’s failure to abide by terms of the court order pertaining to her conduct during visitation, (2) her failure to call the child by the name given to him by petitioners, and (3) an expert’s opinion that continued visitation would have a negative impact on the child’s relationship with petitioners.
- Matter of Stent v Schwartz (CAF 14-01082, 14-01052) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order granting custody of the child to the child’s half-brother. 4AD concludes that the lower court properly concluded that extraordinary circumstances were established based on the parents’ frequent change in residence, including their eviction from a residence that resulted in several months of homelessness during which the parents lived in a tent or their car. During that time, the child changed schools a number of times and missed days and weeks of school at a time. 4AD also notes that the child had poor hygiene. 4AD concludes that this evidence shows that the parents have exhibited “behavior evidencing utter indifference and irresponsibility”.
- Justices Carni and DeJoseph dissent, finding that petitioner did not establish the existence of extraordinary circumstances. The dissent argues that the evidence pertaining to the parents living in several temporary residences following their eviction did not establish their lack of parental fitness. There was no proof that the parents’ living situation was ever unsafe, or that the child’s medical needs were neglected. The child’s hygiene and absences from school also were insufficient to establish extraordinary circumstances.