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January Page I

Summaries of recently released decisions to be included in the next issue of the Digest (uncorrected)



Showup Identification of the Hand-Cuffed Defendant Made in the Police Station Parking Lot 90 Minutes After the Crime Should Have Been Suppressed


The Fourth Department reversed defendant’s conviction and sent the matter back for a Wade hearing to determine whether the eyewitness had an independent basis for his in-court identification of the defendant.  The show-up identification made by the eyewitness was deemed invalid and should have been suppressed:


…[D]efendant contends that County Court erred in refusing to suppress showup identification testimony with respect to him.  We agree. “Showup identifications are disfavored, since they are suggestive by their very nature” …. .  Here, the showup identification procedure was conducted in the parking lot of a police station, approximately 90 minutes after the occurrence of the crime, while defendant was handcuffed and while uniformed police officers and ambulance personnel were in the parking lot.  The totality of the circumstances of this showup identification procedure presses judicial tolerance beyond its limits …, and we conclude under the facts and circumstances of this case that the showup identification procedure was infirm… .  People v Burnice, 1343, 4th Dept 1-3-14




Twenty-Two-Year-Old Conviction Reversed Because of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel


The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, reversed defendant’s 1992 conviction.  The conviction had already been upheld on appeal.  But, in 2012, a writ of coram nobis was brought arguing defendant did not receive a fair trial because of the ineffectiveness of his counsel.  The writ was granted and, on appeal, the court determined defendant was entitled to a new trial.  Defense counsel was deemed ineffective (1) for failure to object to the elicitation of testimony about a threat which had been precluded by the trial judge, and (2) for using a flawed alibi defense (referring to the wrong days of the week) which gave the jury the impression the alibi witnesses were testifying falsely:


We conclude that “defendant has demonstrated the absence of any strategic or other legitimate explanation for his attorney’s” failure to object to the introduction of this prejudicial and previously precluded testimony … .  Moreover, after defense counsel failed to object to the admission of that precluded testimony, the prosecutor continued to use that testimony to full advantage, arguing on summation that the threat to the prosecution witness “puts the [d]efendant [at the crime scene] just as easily as any person you saw in there” … .  Defense counsel’s error in failing to object to the testimony of the prosecution witness “simply cannot be construed as a misguided though reasonably plausible strategy decision” …, and “ ‘is sufficiently serious to have deprived defendant of a fair trial’… . * * *


Presenting an alibi defense for the wrong date or time has been found, by itself, to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel … .  We conclude that presenting an alibi defense for the wrong day of the week, as occurred here, similarly constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel inasmuch as offering patently erroneous alibi testimony cannot be construed as a plausible strategy… . People v Jarvis, 1009, 4th Dept 1-3-14




Banging On Door of Closed Restaurant While Wearing a Mask and Carrying a BB Gun Was Sufficient to Support Conviction for Attempted Robbery


Over a two-justice dissent, the Fourth Department affirmed defendant’s conviction for attempted robbery.  Defendant, wearing a mask and armed with a BB gun, banged on the back door of a restaurant, which was closed. One of the restaurant employees called 911.  On appeal the defendant argued that the proof was not sufficient to demonstrate an intent to forcibly steal property and therefore could not support an attempted robbery conviction:


Although defendant’s mere entry into a store with a gun does not “unequivocally establish that he intended to commit a robbery” …, the evidence also established that none of the Wendy’s employees knew defendant; the restaurant was not open to the public when defendant sought entry; defendant and his accomplice were armed with BB guns that appeared to be firearms; defendant and his accomplice wore masks and gloves; and defendant had a backpack into which stolen property could be put.


Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the People, as we must …, we conclude that there is a “ ‘valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences [that] could lead a rational person’ ” to the conclusion reached by the trial court, i.e., that defendant was trying to gain entry into the restaurant with the intent to steal property forcibly from someone inside … . Furthermore, viewing the evidence in light of the elements of the crime in this nonjury trial …, we conclude that the verdict is not against the weight of the evidence… . People v Lamont, 1090, 4th Dept 1-3-14




Determination Whether Defendant Is a Youthful Offender Is Mandatory for Every Eligible Youth


Over a dissent, the Fourth Department determined the sentencing court did not make a finding whether the defendant was a youthful offender, as it was required to do.  The matter was sent back for the determination:


“Upon conviction of an eligible youth, the court must order a [presentence] investigation of the defendant.  After receipt of a written report of the investigation and at the time of pronouncing sentence the court must determine whether or not the eligible youth is a youthful offender” (CPL 720.20 [1]).  The Court of Appeals has concluded that, by the use of the word “must,” the legislature has made “a policy choice that there be a youthful offender determination in every case where the defendant is eligible, even where the defendant fails to request it, or agrees to forgo it as part of a plea bargain” … .  “[W]e cannot deem the court’s failure to rule on the . . . [issue] as a denial thereof” … .  We therefore hold the case, reserve decision, and remit the matter to County Court to make and state for the record “a determination of whether defendant is a youthful offender” … . People v Koons, 1077, 4th Dept 1-3-14





Hearsay Statements Exonerating Defendant Properly Excluded as Not Meeting the Reliability Requirement for a “Statement Against Penal Interest”


Over a dissent, the Fourth Department determined the accomplice’s hearsay statements exonerating the defendant were properly excluded from evidence because they did not meet the “reliability” requirement for “statements against penal interest:”


We … note that the Court of Appeals has recently reiterated that there are four components to the declaration against penal interest exception to the hearsay rule: “(1) the declarant must be unavailable to testify by reason of death, absence from the jurisdiction or refusal to testify on constitutional grounds; (2) the declarant must be aware at the time the statement is made that it is contrary to penal interest; (3) the declarant must have competent knowledge of the underlying facts; and (4) there must be sufficient proof independent of the utterance to assure its reliability” ….  Jerome Prince, Richardson on Evidence sets forth a fifth component, i.e., that the declarant “had no probable motive to misrepresent the facts” (Jerome Prince, Richardson on Evidence § 8-403 [Farrell 11th Ed 2008]).  To the extent that component should be part of our calculus here, we conclude that it weights our determination even more heavily in the People’s favor. People v McArthur, 1249, 4th Dept 1-3-14




Question of Fact About Negligent Operation of a Ski Lift


The Fourth Department determined plaintiffs had raised a question of fact about whether the operators of a ski lift were negligent in failing to notice plaintiff’s skis were entangled as they approached the point where they were to get off the lift.  Supreme Court had determined the cause of action was prohibited by the assumption of the risk doctrine:


It is beyond debate that there is inherent risk of injury to participants in downhill skiing . . . Moreover, there is undoubtedly some risk of injury inherent in entering, riding and exiting from a chairlift at a ski resort.  However, . . . the latter is not of such magnitude as to eliminate all duty of care and thereby insulate the owner from claims of negligent supervision and training of the lift operator or negligent maintenance and operation of the lift itself since such negligence may unduly enhance the level of the risk assumed” (…see General Obligations Law § 18-101…). …


We conclude … that defendants’ own submissions raised triable issues of fact whether they were negligent in their operation of the chairlift, thereby unduly enhancing the risk to plaintiff … . … Upon reaching the sign directing passengers to prepare to unload, plaintiff noticed that her skis were entangled with her son’s skis.  Defendants did not slow or stop the chairlift, and plaintiff was unable to unload from the chairlift before it passed the unloading area.  Plaintiff was injured when she either jumped or was thrown from the chairlift before it reached the safety gate that would have stopped the chairlift.  Tone v Song Mountain Ski Center…, 1377, 4th Dept 1-3-14




Plaintiff Did Not Raise Question of Fact About Whether Municipality Had Notice of Sidewalk Defect and Was Affirmatively Negligent


The Fourth Department, over a dissent, determined the plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact about whether the municipality created a dangerous condition by placing a piece of plywood over a hole in a sidewalk.  There was evidence the municipality had received a work order for the area in question and the area was inspected but no problem was found.  There was no evidence the municipality was responsible for placing the plywood over the hole:


Contrary to plaintiff’s contention, the court properly determined that the City’s prior written notice requirement applies inasmuch as the area where the accident occurred is part of the sidewalk … .  Because the City established in support of its motion that it did not receive prior written notice, the burden shifted to plaintiff to demonstrate the applicability of an exception to that requirement … .  We agree with defendants that the court erred in determining that plaintiff met that burden by establishing that such an exception applies, i.e., that the City was affirmatively negligent … .  Although plaintiff submitted a preaccident “work order” to the City for the location in question, she failed to adduce any evidence that the City placed the plywood over the hole in which she fell.  Further, the City established that, in response to the “work order,” it dispatched an employee who testified that he inspected the area in question, found nothing wrong with it, and performed no work. Thus, plaintiff failed to raise an issue of fact “whether the City created a defective condition within the meaning of the exception” to defeat defendants’ motion … . Pulver v City of Fulton …, 1086, 4th Dept 1-3-14





The Destruction of Decedent’s Body in a Trash Compactor Gave Rise to a Cause of Action for Loss of Sepulcher


The Fourth Department determined plaintiff, decedent’s sister, had stated a cause of action for loss of sepulcher.  The decedent was crushed to death after falling into a trash compactor provided by the defendants.  His body was never recovered.  The court noted that adult children have “priority” over a sibling to bring an action for loss of sepulcher, but both have standing to do so.  Although decedent’s sister has standing to bring the action, she will have to demonstrate she has “priority” at trial (there was no indication the adult children sought to exercise the right to bring the action):


“It is well established that the common-law right of sepulcher gives the next of kin the absolute right to the immediate possession of a decedent’s body for preservation and burial, and that damages will be awarded against any person who unlawfully interferes with that right or improperly deals with the decedent’s body” … .  “To establish a cause of action for interference with the right of sepulcher, plaintiff must establish that:  (1) plaintiff is the decedent’s next of kin; (2) plaintiff had a right to possession of the remains; (3) defendant interfered with plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the decedent’s body; (4) the interference was unauthorized; (5) plaintiff was aware of the interference; and (6) the interference caused plaintiff mental anguish, which is generally presumed” … . Shepherd v Whitestar Development Corp…, 1144, 4th Dept 1-3-14





Decedent’s Divorce Did Not Invalidate Provisions of Her 1996 Will Which Made Her Former Father-In-Law the Alternate Executor and Alternate Beneficiary/Proof Was Insufficient to Demonstrate the 1996 Will Had Been Revoked by a Lost Will


In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Scudder, over a lengthy dissent by Justice Peradotto, the Fourth Department affirmed Surrogate’s Court’s determination that a 1996 will must be admitted to probate and any provisions of the will not affected by decedent’s divorce must be honored.  The petitioner was the (divorced) decedent’s former father-in-law who was named alternate executor and alternate beneficiary of the 1996 will.  Under New York law, decedent’s divorce revoked the testamentary distribution to her ex-husband and revoked her ex-husband’s appointment as executor, but the provisions of the will relating to decedent’s former father-in-law remained viable. The objectants argued that the 1996 will had been revoked by a subsequent will which was lost. The Fourth Department found that there was insufficient evidence presented at the hearing to show that the lost will was duly executed and attested and, therefore, there was insufficient evidence the prior will had been revoked:


Pursuant to New York law, the testamentary distribution to the ex-husband and his appointment as executor are revoked, but all other provisions of the will remain valid (see EPTL 5-1.4 [a], [b]…). * * *


We are constrained to conclude that the evidence at the hearing is insufficient to establish that the Lost Will was duly executed and attested … .  With respect to New York’s EPTL 3-2.1, there was no testimony that the document was signed or acknowledged by decedent in the presence of the witnesses. Furthermore, there was no evidence that decedent declared to the witnesses that the document was her will.  Finally, although the neighbor testified that decedent’s signature appeared on the document, there was no evidence that the signature was at the end of the document. Matter of Lewis…, 1170, 4th Dept 1-3-14


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