A 44-year old man was convicted, following a jury trial, of various crimes stemming from a shootout during which two innocent bystanders were injured. The defendant thereafter was sentenced as a second felony offender to an aggregate term of 30 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision. The defendant appealed his conviction.
Prior to trial, evidence was introduced showing that the defendant has been convicted with drug crimes, based on guilty pleas, and the other man involved in the shoot-out has been convicted with crack cocaine possession, with the intent to sell. Following the shootout, the other man involved in the shootout was again found in possession of crack cocaine, leading to several drug-related crimes.
The prosecution argued that the prior conviction was probative of the defendant’s intent to act in concert with the other man to constructively possess and sell the cocaine; the State also sought to introduce evidence of the defendant’s alleged gang affiliation and other prior drug dealing and gun possession charges as additional evidence of intent and motive.
The appellate court, after review of the record, found that the trial court balanced the prejudice to defendant against the probative value of the proffered evidence, and ultimately permitted the introduction of the prior drug-related conviction as relevant to the prosecution’s theory of the case that defendant and the other man involved in the shootout were accomplices in the newly charged drug-related crimes, but denied the prosecution’s request to introduce evidence of gang affiliation and the other prior charges.
The defendant also argued that the jury’s finding that he possessed and fired a weapon was against the weight of the evidence because none of the prosecution’s witnesses testified to actually seeing him hold and fire a weapon during the shootout. The appellate court disagreed, based on the strong circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s findings. Testimony from witnesses established that the defendant was in possession of a handgun the day prior to the incident, and that the defendant and the other man involved in the crime had each armed themselves with handguns shortly before the shooting.
The appellate court also rejected the defendant’s remaining contentions, finding that he was not prejudiced by the prosecutor’s reference during summation to defendant in the context of the other man’s statement to police. The prosecutor, according to the appellate court, properly referred only to the other man’s redacted statement, and his use of the statement to draw inferences about defendant’s participation in the crime by linking it to other trial evidence was permissible. Nor did the appellate court find any basis to justify a reduction in the defendant’s sentence, which was within the statutory guidelines under relevant penal laws, given the brazen nature of defendant’s crimes and his lengthy criminal history. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s conviction.
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