Shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday, January 6, 1994, two people forced their way into the South Third Street apartment of the Garcia family. The two individuals threatened Bernardo G as well as his wife and two young daughters. They then forced Mr. G to give them the keys to Diana’s Grocery, of which the as were owners. At some point during the robbery, another person entered the apartment. Additional individuals were involved in the robbery of the grocery store and the involved parties communicated via walkie-talkie throughout the event.
On March 4, 1994, neighborhood resident John V was arrested shortly after stopping at the Garcia’s store, apparently to buy a snack. He alone stood trial for the robbery. The other individuals who were arrested pled guilty to their charges. Mr. V was found guilty of six counts of robbery in the first degree, four counts of robbery in the second degree, five counts of burglary in the first degree and two counts of assault in the second degree. Had the Gs not been home when the crime occurred, the men would likely have been charged with burglary or another lesser crime, such as larceny.
On February 6th of the following year, Mr. V was sentenced to terms of 6 to 18 years for the first degree robbery and burglary counts. He was also sentenced to 5 to 15 years on the second degree robbery counts. Finally, he received 2 to 6 years on the assault counts. The judge ordered all the sentences to run concurrently.
Mr. V filed a writ of habeas corpus and on January 27, 2000, he was released from the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility. Shortly thereafter on February 10, Mr. ‘s conviction was vacated and all charges against him were dropped.
Following the reversal of the Mr. V’s conviction, he filed a liability claim on in the Court of Claims of the City of New York citing the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act. In his claim, Mr. V continued to maintain his innocence, stating that he was home on the night the robbery occurred. At the time the robbery occurred, Mr. V was working for the Washington Inventory Services in Bayside, Queens as an inventory clerk. In January of 1994, the year the robbery occurred, Mr. regularly worked Monday through Friday, with a two-hour commute each way. Typically, he would leave his home at approximately 4 in the morning and return each night at around 8 or 8:30.
Diana’s Grocery, located at 322 Union Avenue, was one or two blocks away from Mr. ‘s home. On March 4, the day of the arrest, Mr. V had planned to get a hair cut at a barbershop located next to the grocery store. Mr. V walked into the G’s store and bought a soda and a bag of chips. He then walked next door to the barbershop to wait for an opening. While waiting, he saw some people he knew across the street. He walked outside to where they were and was subsequently arrested.
Mr. V’s attorney acknowledged that his client had two prior convictions, one for a misdemeanor involving a firecracker and one class D felony conviction for attempted arson in the third degree. Mr. V pled guilty to the charges on December 3, 1993 and January 14, 1994 respectively.
Mr. V’s sister testified that in January of 1994, she lived on Maujer Street with her brother, mother, son and one of her sisters. She did not recall mr. V leaving the house on the night of the robbery.
Antonio C, one of the individuals who pled guilty in the robbery, testified that he knew all of the individuals involved in the crime and could identify them. Mr. C testified at trial that he did not know Mr. V at all.
Anthony M also pled guilty to his involvement in the crime. In addition to C, Mr. M identified six other individuals who participated in the robbery. M was shown a picture of Mr. V and like Mr. C, stated he did not know him at all.
According to Mr. V’s defense lawyer, the testimony of these witnesses was more than sufficient to prove his client’s innocence and establish a liability claim against the state of New York.
Defense counsel for the State of New York argued that Mr. V did not prove his innocence by clear and convincing evidence. The State cited the failure to provide additional family members as alibi witnesses, the testimony of C and the testimony of the Garcia family as weak spots in Mr. V’s case.
The Court of Claims was charged with determining whether Mr. V had proven his innocence under the terms of the Unjust Conviction Act. In addition to meeting the standard of proof regarding his innocence, Mr. V was also responsible for proving that he did not bring about his conviction by his own conduct.
The Court held that the testimony and statements of Mr. M and Mr. C attesting to the fact that Mr. V was not involved in the robbery could be viewed as credible. The Court also cited the fact that no witnesses testified that Mr. V was part of the robbery nor was any physical evidence ever presented linking him to the crime.
The Court also cited deficiencies in the testimony of the Gs, noting that none of the family members who testified were accurately able to identify Mr. V at trial. Based on these facts, the Court of Claims determined that Mr. V had sufficiently established that he was not involved in the robbery of the G family. Accordingly, the State of New York was held liable to Mr. V under the Court of Claims Act and a judgment was issued in his favor.
This case demonstrates the importance of experienced legal counsel in defending oneself against criminal charges. Had Mr. V attempted to file his claim unassisted, he may not have been successful in proving his innocence and winning his liability claim.
The law firm of Stephen Bilkis and Associates shares the same concern for defendant’s rights. We specialize in providing expert legal defense for individuals charged with robbery or similar crimes in the New York area. If you’re facing a criminal trial for robbery or another property crime involving theft, you need to contact a qualified New York Criminal Defense Attorney today. Call us now at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW or visit one of our New York area offices to get the legal representation you need to defend your rights.