Published on:

Court Decides Case Regarding Collateral Estoppel Issue

A New York Criminal Lawyer said that on January 24, 1984, at approximately 7:50 P.M., two employees of the X Establishment were robbed by two assailants, one of whom carried a sawed-off shotgun. Fifteen days later, on February 8, 1984, in Queens County, the defendant was repairing an automobile registered in his girlfriend’s name when he was approached by two police officers and a civilian, the latter of whom identified the defendant as the person who had just taken a shot at him. The defendant was placed under arrest and police officers seized from a leather bag which was located in the trunk of the defendant’s girlfriend’s car a loaded sawed-off shotgun and separately packaged ammunition. The defendant was subsequently charged with reckless endangerment in the first degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.

It is not disputed that in the Queens prosecution, the defendant moved to suppress the sawed-off shotgun and ammunition, and the Supreme Court, Queens County, denied him that relief. Rendered after an evidentiary hearing at which the defendant did not testify, the denial was apparently premised on a variety of grounds, including that, because the car was not in his name, the defendant had no standing to protest the search.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said that in May 1984 the defendant was identified as the unarmed half of the duo which robbed the Establishment in January 1984. On September 4, 1984, a Nassau County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging the defendant with two counts of robbery in the first degree. On or about September 13, 1984, the defendant proceeded to trial without a jury on the Queens County charges and the court found the defendant not guilty of all counts.

A New York City Criminal Lawyer said having been notified that the People intended to offer at trial of the Nassau County indictment evidence linking the sawed-off shotgun seized at the time of the Queens arrest to the Nassau County robbery, the defendant sought in the Nassau County prosecution suppression of the gun on the ground that New York City police seized it in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights. The County Court ultimately denied the application without a hearing, ruling that, because of the denial of his suppression motion which preceded his acquittal in Queens, the defendant was collaterally estopped from relitigating the legality of the shotgun’s seizure.

A Manhattan Criminal Lawyer said the defendant was tried twice on the Nassau County robbery indictment. The first trial culminated in a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a verdict. At the outset of the retrial, the prosecutor indicated his intention to elicit evidence concerning recovery of the gun and the defendant’s February 8, 1984, link to it. The defendant thereupon sought a ruling precluding such evidence since the People were collaterally estopped from eliciting evidence as to the events of February 8, 1984, linking him to the weapon.

The trial court denied the defendant’s application and a New York City police officer was permitted to testify that, on February 8, 1984, he observed the defendant working under the dashboard of a certain vehicle, that he placed the defendant under arrest, and that he searched the vehicle and thereby observed in an open bag in an open trunk the sawed-off shotgun which others linked to the robbery.

Collateral estoppel principles apply to criminal as well as civil cases and, in a criminal case, are both a part of and exist independently of the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. As a general matter, this doctrine involves determining that there is an identity with prior litigation of parties and of issues, that the prior litigation resulted in a final and valid judgment, and that the party now opposing the application of collateral estoppel had full and fair opportunity in the prior litigation to contest the particular factual point at issue.

With respect to the collateral estoppel effect of the denial by the Supreme Court, Queens County, of that branch of the defendant’s omnibus motion which was to suppress the gun and ammunition, the parties focus primarily on whether, because of his decision not to testify at the suppression hearing, the defendant was deprived of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the propriety of the seizure of those items. This effort is misplaced. Because the defendant was ultimately acquitted of the Queens County charges, he could not seek appellate review of the suppression ruling. Thus, that determination was not sufficiently final to be accorded collateral estoppel effect. The County Court therefore erred when it ruled that the defendant was collaterally estopped from litigating the Fourth Amendment issue in the robbery prosecution and the defendant is entitled to a new hearing on that issue.

We now turn to the defendant’s assertion that, apart from whether the gun, the ammunition, and testimony concerning the Queens County arrest are to be suppressed on Fourth Amendment grounds, the People are collaterally estopped from eliciting such evidence in the Nassau County case by virtue of his acquittal of charges that he possessed the sawed-off shotgun which witnesses linked to the Nassau County robbery. To the extent the present record permits a determination of this issue, we resolve it in the defendant’s favor.

It is recognized that the defendant’s burden of demonstrating that a not guilty determination in a prior prosecution for an unrelated crime necessarily included a factual issue raised in the second prosecution is a difficult one to meet. It ordinarily requires an examination of all parts of the record of the prior proceeding so as to enable a court to conclude therefrom whether a rational trier of fact could have grounded its decision on an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration.

That examination was not undertaken by the County Court in this case, and, since the record of the Queens trial is not now before us, it cannot be undertaken here. It is nonetheless obvious that in the Queens case, the People failed to prove that on a particular date the defendant exercised dominion and control over the shotgun. And while the People are precluded as a matter of law from appealing from that and any related determinations, constitutional considerations as well as the requisite flexible application of the common-law doctrine of collateral estoppel nonetheless compel the conclusion that it would be inequitable and harassive to again permit the prosecution to try to establish that the defendant exercised dominion and control over the shotgun on February 8, 1984 as if the first trial had never taken place. It was therefore error, in the face of the defendant’s motion in limine, to allow the People to elicit that the defendant was connected with the February 8, 1984, recovery of the gun.

We hold that, even though neither the prosecution nor the defense could have sought appellate review of determinations in a prior criminal proceeding, only the prosecution in this case is collaterally estopped from relitigating a factual issue determined in favor of the defendant in that prior proceeding.

To effectively raise doctrinal defenses in favor of a defendant in a criminal case, seek the assistance of the Nassau County Criminal Attorney. In order not to jeopardized the rights of an accused during prosecution of cases, it is imperative to have a legal expert to defend at your side.

Here at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, our Nassau County Criminal Lawyers are adept in the different defenses available for an accused. If you want to be represented by our lawyers, call us at our toll free number or visit our office near you.

Contact Information