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.

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.
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.
Client's Conviction Vacated
C.S. accepted a guilty plea in 2014 to a charge that no one—not the judge, the A.D.A. who offered her the plea bargain, or her defense attorney—realized would require her to register as a sex offender.  More than two years after her sentence was over, after she had moved on with her life, she was notified of this consequence by the state of New York.  CAL filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, arguing that if C.S. had been told about this significant consequence at the time she pled guilty, she would never have accepted the plea offer.  Agreeing that sex offender registration was not the intended result of their plea bargain, the prosecution consented to vacate her conviction and allowed C.S. to plead guilty to an alternative charge that would not brand her as a sex offender. Our client was represented by Molly Schindler. 
Client's Conviction Reversed
On August 1, 2017, the Appellate Division First Department reversed Cal client A.B.’s attempted murder conviction and 25 year sentence.  A.B. was accused of attempting to kill the complainant during a robbery of a drug spot.  During the incident, the complainant was shot in the head and subsequently had the frontal lobe of his brain removed.  At trial, the complainant provided conflicting testimony concerning what happened during the incident ; he was initially unable to identify his shooter.  Following an overnight recess, the complainant returned to court and insisted that A.B. was responsible.  The jury convicted A.B. after the prosecution presented expert testimony, refuted by medical records, that the complainant’s brain remained “intact” despite his massive injuries.  The Appellate Division reversed the conviction after extensively reviewing the evidence in a lengthy decision.  The court refused to dismiss the charges because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, but found that the defense had been prejudiced by the introduction of hearsay evidence.  That evidence had provided an alibi to the person the defense claimed had actually done the shooting.  In reversing, the Appellate Division rejected the prosecution’s argument that the evidence had not been introduced for its truth but only to explain the nature of the police investigation which the defense had challenged as sloppy. Claudia Trupp represented A.B. on appeal.
First Department Reverses Denial of Client's Vacatur Motion
On July 13, 2017, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed the decision of New York County Supreme Court Justice Bruce Allen, who had denied our client CP’s motion to vacate his conviction on the grounds that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel in connection with his guilty plea to attempted third-degree sale of a controlled substance. CP, a lawful permanent resident from Trinidad, alleged that his attorney, when counseling him plead guilty, assured him that, so long as he stayed out of further legal trouble, he might avoid deportation. The First Department found that, because CP was pleading guilty to an aggravated felony, deportation was mandatory irrespective of good behavior. The First Department remanded the matter for a hearing to give CP an opportunity to demonstrate the misadvice, and to show that, had he been correctly advised, he would not have pleaded guilty. Mark Zeno represents CP.
Deliberating Juror's Emotions Rendered Her Grossly Disqualified, Court of Appeals Finds

On June 22, 2017, finding that the trial court wrongly refused defense counsel’s application to dismiss a deliberating juror as “grossly unqualified” under CPL  270.35(1), the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the first-degree manslaughter conviction of CAL client D.S.  On the fourth day of deliberations, the juror sought to speak to the trial court.  In the ensuing colloquy, the juror consistently maintained that she was unable to obey her oath and “separate her emotions from her ability to deliberate.”  She could not, she insisted, “reach a verdict based solely on the evidence presented at trial and the law.”  For its part, the trial court insisted that the juror had to deliberate fairly, because her removal would force a mistrial. 

Stressing that whether a seated juror was grossly unqualified constituted “a legal determination,” the Court of Appeals observed that the juror had not declared an actual bias.  The Court’s case law, however, did not require actual bias for a “grossly unqualified” determination.  The Court also stated that, while “a declaration regarding emotions alone does not render a juror grossly unqualified,” this juror had declared that her emotions had disabled her from deliberating fairly and impartially.  D.S. was represented by CAL attorney Susan Salomon.