CAL in the Courts

The postings below present recent noteworthy CAL court appearances and case outcomes. Please use the Contact Us inquiry form if you'd like further information about any of these cases.

Murder conviction reversed because of sitting juror’s concealment of application to prosecutor’s office
On November 28, 2017, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed the second-degree murder conviction of CAL client, Equan Southall.   The First Department ruled that a sitting juror’s failure to disclose that she had submitted a job application to become an assistant district attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (which was prosecuting Southall) deprived Southall of twelve, impartial jurors of his own choosing and denied him his constitutional right to a fair trial.  The Appellate Division found that, among other things, the juror’s concealment of such material information demonstrated actual bias and disqualified her from service at this trial. CAL attorney John Vang represented Southall at the 440 proceedings and on appeal.         
Homicide conviction reversed because of faulty justification charge
On November 22, 2017, the Appellate Division, First Department, reversed the first-degree manslaughter conviction of CAL client, Santos Santiago.  The First Department ruled that the trial court’s justification charge failed to convey that an acquittal on the top count of second-degree murder based on a finding of justification would preclude consideration of the remaining charges, namely the manslaughter charge. CAL attorney John Vang represented Santiago on appeal.             
AD1 Unanimously Reduces Client's Sentence by 15 Years
On November 16, 2017, the Appellate Division unanimously reduced the 40-years-to-life aggregate sentence of our client, S.M., to 25 years to life.  Convicted, after a jury trial, of felony murder and second-degree (“simple”) weapon possession, he had received consecutive sentences of 25 to life and 15 years.  On appeal, we had challenged, as unduly suggestive, a lineup identification of our client and the court’s charge on accomplice corroboration.  The appellate panel rebuffed these arguments.  We also challenged the consecutive sentence as unlawful under People v. Brown, 21 N.Y.3d 739 (2013), arguing that, since the weapon (a gun) was obtained only because of and after the plan to commit the crime with it was allegedly hatched — the intended crime being a robbery —  it did not pass Brown’s test for consecutive sentencing.  The Appellate Division thought otherwise.  In the alternative, we had argued that such consecutive sentencing constituted an abuse of discretion, since our client had allegedly sought to unload the gun prior to the robbery and had also expressed interest in the court’s guilty-plea offer of 20-to-life that had been tendered to him and his co-defendant following the declaration of a mistrial and prior to the start of the retrial that resulted in their convictions.  Conditioned on both defendants’ accepting it, the plea did not come to fruition because the co-defendant rejected it.  See People v. Fiumefreddo, 82 N.Y.2d 536, 544 (1993).  The Appellate Division did not give any reasons, but reduced our client’s sentence as a matter of discretion.  He is represented by CAL attorney Susan Salomon.  
Appellate Term Reverses Conviction upon CAL's Review
On October 13, 2017, the Appellate Term threw out CAL client JE’s conviction after finding that he had not properly been advised of his Boykin rights before he waived them and pleaded guilty to seventh-degree controlled substance possession. Previously assigned counsel had filed an Anders/Saunders brief seeking to be relieved. The court rejected the view that no non-frivolous issue existed and asked CAL to review the case. Upon that review, CAL argued that Mr. E had suffered a serious deprivation of his due process rights. The People conceded error, and the court agreed that dismissal rather than remand for further proceedings was the appropriate remedy. Kate Skolnick represented JE.
Case Dismissed Due to Prosecution's Extreme Delay in Sentencing
It took the New York County District Attorney’s Office nearly nine years to produce CAL client C.D. for sentencing, even though C.D. was in New York State custody for the vast majority of that entire nine-year period. On appeal, CAL argued that the prosecution’s extreme delay violated C.D.’s statutory right to prompt sentencing under C.P.L. 380.30(1). The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the sentencing court to give the prosecution an opportunity to respond to CAL’s argument. But on October 10, 2017, a representative of the District Attorney’s Office stood before the court and conceded that “the People can’t prevail on the hearing in this matter … and the case should be dismissed.” Supreme Court Justice Felicia Mennin dismissed the case and sealed the indictment. Ben A. Schatz represented C.D. on appeal and remand.
Denial of Defense Challenge For Cause Leads to Reversal of Client’s Conviction
In a murder and robbery prosecution against CAL client C.W., a prospective juror stated to the judge that he was an active NYPD officer and could be absolutely fair. When questioned further by defense counsel, he maintained that because  police officers testify “based on facts, evidence and what the victim tells us,” there’ was “no room to make error,” unless the witness provided the officer with inaccurate information.  On further questioning by defense counsel, the prospective juror allowed only “a little room” for the possibility of independent mistake, lying, or exaggeration.  The court conducted no follow-up questioning, and denied defense counsel’s challenge.  On September 26, 2017, AD1 reversed, finding that “[t]he panelist clearly showed a predisposition to believe that police officers testify truthfully,” and that he never expressly stated that his prior state of mind would not influence the verdict, as the law requires.  Barbara Zolot represented client C.W. 
Denial of Suppression of Statements Leads to Reversal
After arresting our client, P.F., for murder, detectives questioned him at the station house.  At the Huntley hearing, a detective testified that he gave P.F. Miranda warnings and P.F. stated he understood them.  The detectives then elicited a statement from him.  Several hours later, P.F. was questioned by an ADA on videotape.  Upon P.F.’s being given Miranda warnings, the videotaped showed, P.F. clearly did not understand that a lawyer would be appointed for him if he could not afford one.  The Huntley court suppressed the videotaped statement but refused to suppress the earlier one at the station house because the earlier Miranda waiver went smoothly.  The Appellate Division reversed, given P.F.’s fundamental misunderstanding of his right to counsel.  
Client Earns Downward Departure to SORA Level 1
On September 19, V.R. received a SORA Level 1 after the court granted a downward departure based on his exceptional conduct during his sentence, which included a strong performance in sex offender treatment program, as well as his unusual degree of support in the community.  The court found that these mitigating factors reduce V.R.’s risk of future recidivism, such that the lowest registration level would be sufficient to protect the public safety.
Client's SORA Level Reduced Unanimously
On September 1, G.R.’s SORA level was reduced to Level 1 with the unanimous approval of the court, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Board of Sex Offender Examiners.  In the ten years since his misdemeanor conviction, G.R. successfully completed an intensive term of probation as well as sex offender treatment, has avoided any criminal contacts, and has maintained employment in a public service position in which he serves as a mentor to young fathers with criminal records.  He himself is a devoted father who enjoys the support of a large community of family and friends.  G.R.’s petition to reduce his registration level to the lowest level was enthusiastically granted.
Client Earns SORA Level Downward Departure
On August 8, the court granted a downward departure to SORA Level 2 for R.A.R. in recognition of his extraordinary rehabilitative efforts over the course of his 30-year sentence.  R.A.R. entered prison as a military veteran with a severe drug and alcohol addiction who had committed a very serious crime.  During his sentence, however, he maintained a near-perfect disciplinary record, developed a devoted religious practice, and excelled in multiple treatment programs.  Finding that the SORA Guidelines did not adequately take into account R.A.R.’s considerable remorse and rehabilitation, the court granted a downward departure.