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Defendant Appeals Admissibility of Post Conviction Witness Testimony


When courts deal with witnesses and their testimony, sometimes-unexpected things happen. When they do, it is up to the Supreme Court to determine what testimony can cause a reversal of the verdict and demand a new trial. The Supreme Court has the job of determining matters of law. They are not there to try the cases that are presented to them. They only rule on the matters of law contained within the cases that they get. Their job is to uphold a conviction of a trial court or to overturn it. They cannot find a defendant guilty or not guilty.

In the case at hand, in a pretrial hearing, the state made the defense aware that they intended to produce a witness at trial who through testimony would offer proof of some uncharged crimes that could be attributed to the defendant. The testimony disclosed that the witness to a homicide was working in a restaurant four years after the crime when the defendant came in.

The witness recognized the defendant at once as the killer from four years before. The defendant began to go into the restaurant on a regular basis. Eventually they began to have casual conversations. After a while of this type of interaction, the defendant offered the witness a job in his drug-trafficking business. According to the witness, the defendant told the witness that he robbed drug dealers of their drugs to sell in Boston.

The defense objected to the testimony that was heard by the jury because they feared that it would prejudice the jury against their client. The trial court decided that the value of the testimony as to the “identity, motive, and intent outweighed any potential prejudice.” So the testimony was allowed.

However, when the witness got on the stand at trial, he testified not only to the incidents that had been approved as stated above, but elaborated on the details that he had previously provided to the State. On the witness stand, he testified that the defendant had also confessed to him that when he was robbing drug dealers of their drugs that he often had to murder them to get the drugs.

Because of this additional testimony, the trial court agreed with the defense counsel’s post-conviction motion to dismiss the conviction. Under People v Hudy, 73 NY2d 40, 54-55; and People v Molineux, 168 NY 264, as a general rule, evidence of uncharged crimes is not admissible if offered only to raise a question that the defendant has a criminal background or inclinations. The state must be able to show that the evidence as it is presented is relevant to an issue other than the accusation that the defendant is a criminal.

The state contends that the testimony should be admissible on the issue of identity. The court ruled that for uncharged crime, evidence to be admissible there has to be clear and convincing evidence that connects the defendant based on a unique modus operandi. The identity of the defendant must be able to be connected to the crime based on that unique modus operandi as the person who committed the other crime. The court does not believe that the testimony in this situation provided that level of surety.

The court contends that the circumstances present at this hearing are problematic. There was probative value to the witness’s testimony. The witness was able to identify the defendant as being one of the men whom he saw commit the murder of a drug dealer four years earlier. The similarity between the crime that he witnessed and the crimes testified to but not charges are highly prejudicial to the defendant. The court contends that the trial court properly set aside the verdict.

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