Quentin A was convicted of the robbery of a 13-year-old girl. The victim in the case testified that he used a knife to commit the crime, which distinguished it from other crimes involving the theft of property, such as petty larceny, which does not involve the use of force or threats. Mr. A appealed his case to the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. His defense lawyer argued that Mr. A deserved a new trial since the trial court did not allow the defense to submit expert testimony concerning the validity of eyewitness identifications.
According to the victim, Farhana U., Mr. A approached her as she was walking down the stairs into the subway at Essex and Delancey Streets. Mr. A came within two feet of her and asked for some change. Farhana told Mr. A she did not have any change and continued down the stairs. Mr. A walked past her up the stairs, then came back down and stood in front of her. He proceeded to hold a knife to her neck and demand that she give him the necklace she was wearing. Farhana resisted but Mr. A grabbed the necklace and proceeded to run off up the stairs. Farhana reported the robbery to the token booth clerk.
A police detective interviewed Farhana with her brother present. According to the detective’s report, the victim seemed afraid but was able to describe the person who robbed her as a black man, over six feet in height and wearing a blue shirt and bandana. The detective prepared a photo lineup which included a man who had been arrested for a robbery in the same general area on May 28. The man Farhana identified as the robber was the same man arrested for the earlier robbery.
Police arrested Mr. A on June 22nd. Farhana was called to the police station and subsequently picked Mr. A out of a lineup. Since the crime involved theft by the use of force, he was charged with robbery rather than a lesser offense such as theft.
Prior to the beginning of jury selection, Mr. A’s attorney filed a motion to present an expert witness on the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. The motion was denied but the court gave Mr. A the option to renew the motion after the prosecution rested their case. The court also stated that it would charge the jury that just because a witness claims an identification is accurate does not mean it should necessarily be considered reliable.
At trial, Farhana recounted the events of the robbery and again identified Mr. A as the man who had committed the crime. Once the prosecution rested, Mr. A’s defense attorney renewed the earlier motion concerning the eyewitness identification. He argued that the expert should be allowed to offer his opinion on the reliability of Farhana’s identification based on the investigating detective’s initial impression and her own account of the crime. He also argued that since police told Farhana they had a suspect in custody prior to the lineup, this could have unfairly influenced her identification of Mr. A. The court again opted not to allow the expert testimony, saying that a charge to the jury regarding eyewitness identifications prior to beginning deliberations would be sufficient.
Mr. A’s defense attorney then went on to argue that his client could not have committed the crime because he was somewhere else when the robbery occurred. Mr. A claimed that on the day in question, he was picking up his fiancee’s daughter at a school located in Brooklyn. A sign-in sheet bearing his signature was presented as evidence of his whereabouts. The sheet was provided by Mr. A’s fiancée, who testified that she had gotten it from her daughter’s teacher.
This defense was problematic because the teacher testified that Mr. Abney’s fiancée had picked the sheet up on June 3rd. Since Mr. A was not arrested until June 22nd, this raised the question of why his fiancée, Mary N, would have picked up the sign-in sheet in the first place. Since the defense’s evidence appeared contradictory, the jury found Mr. A guilty of robbery and his conviction was subsequently appealed.
The appellate court was charged with determining whether the Supreme Court was correct in denying the defense’s motion to allow the expert testimony on eyewitness identifications. Citing People v. LeGrand, the court held that Mr. A’s conviction for robbery should be upheld.
In the LeGrand case, the court found that if sufficient corroborating evidence is presented against a defendant, excluding the testimony of an eyewitness expert does not prevent the jury from making a fair and unbiased decision. Furthermore, LeGrand noted that in order for a defendant to seek admittance of eyewitness expert testimony, he must provide evidence that the expert’s testimony is relevant to the facts of the case. Following the rules set forth by LeGrand, the appellate court held that the Supreme Court was within its discretion to exclude the expert’s testimony.
The court went on to say that the defense’s own witnesses had provided evidence that the victim was in fact accurate in identifying Mr. A. In the appeal, Mr. A’s defense attorney argued that the testimony of Mr. A’s fiancée and of the teacher, Ms. Carolyn M, did not constitute corroborating evidence based on the standard set forth by LeGrand. The appellate court stated that the testimony of these witnesses precluded any error the trial court may have committed in denying the defense’s motion a second time.
In his appeal, Mr. A also argued that his rights were violated when the court allowed another sign-in sheet into evidence that was different from the one that was obtained from Ms. M. The appellate court rejected this argument, citing a failure on the defense’s part to review the sign-in sheet for any conflicts prior to submitting it into evidence. The court also held that the victim’s identification of Mr. A in the lineup should be upheld and that the trial court acted correctly in disallowing the testimony of two alibi witnesses that the prosecution was not properly notified of.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Moskowitz held that there was insufficient corroborating evidence to establish that Mr. A committed the robbery when the defense filed the pretrial motion concerning eyewitness testimony. Furthermore, the judge held that the expert’s testimony should have been allowed because the Mr. A’s alibi was never concretely disproved, despite the conflicting testimony of the defense witnesses. Additionally, the dissent stated that the jury could have convicted Mr. A based solely upon the belief that the victim’s identification was not reliable.
This case represents how important the aid of an experienced criminal defense attorney is when facing charges for robbery or other serious crimes, such as burglary. It was the opinion of the appellate court that Mr. M’s lawyer committed several errors in presenting a strong defense on his behalf.
If you’ve been arrested for robbery or are facing other charges involving theft, you need to hire a qualified New York Criminal Defense Attorney to act on your behalf. The law firm of Stephen Bilkis and Associates is committed to providing expert legal representation for defendants who are facing a conviction for larceny and other property crimes. Call 1-800-NY-NY-Law to speak with a member of our robbery defense team or visit one of our New York area offices to get the expert legal help you need.