THE SENTENCE FOR KIDNAPPING MUST RUN CONCURRENTLY WITH THE SENTENCE FOR FELONY MURDER; MOTION TO VACATE THE CONVICTION PROPERLY BROUGHT PURSUANT TO CRIMINAL PROCEDURE LAW 440.20 (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined: (1) the judge should have analyzed the motion to vacate the conviction under Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) 440.20, as well as 440.10; (2) the sentence for kidnapping should be concurrent with the sentence for felony murder; and (3) the judge failed to address whether the running of the kidnapping sentence consecutively to the other murder convictions violated defendant’s rights to equal protection. Matter remitted for consideration of the equal-protection argument:

The Supreme Court erred in construing the defendant’s motion as one solely pursuant to CPL 440.10. Rather, the motion also sought resentencing on the basis that the kidnapping sentence “was unauthorized, illegally imposed or otherwise invalid as a matter of law” (CPL 440.20[1]) because it should have been made to run concurrently with the felony murder conviction under count three of the indictment, and it should have been made to run concurrently with all of the murder convictions based on his rights to equal protection. That branch of the motion was properly made pursuant to CPL 440.20 (see CPL 440.20[4]). …

… [T]he imposition of consecutive sentences for the kidnapping conviction under count four of the indictment and the felony murder conviction under count three of the indictment was unlawful, since the kidnapping … , of which the defendant was convicted under count four of the indictment, also constituted the underlying felony in his murder conviction under count three of the indictment, thereby constituting a “material element” of that crime (Penal Law § 70.25[2] …). …

The Supreme Court failed to address the only remaining issue raised by the defendant on this appeal—that the running of the sentence on the kidnapping conviction consecutively to the sentences on the other murder convictions violated his rights to equal protection. Accordingly, we remit the matter to the Supreme Court, Queens County, for a determination of that issue. People v Khan, 2020 NY Slip Op 03537, Second Dept 6-24-20

 


LOCAL LAW PROHIBITING SHORT-TERM RENTAL OF PROPERTIES WHERE THE OWNER DOES NOT RESIDE IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL AS A REGULATORY TAKING (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department determined plaintiff’s constitutional attack on a Local Law which prohibited short-term rental of properties where the owner did not reside did not constitute a regulatory taking of the property:

In 2012, petitioner-plaintiff (plaintiff) purchased a single-family residence (subject premises) located in respondent-defendant Town of Grand Island (Town) for the purpose of renting it out on a short-term basis, i.e., for periods of less than 30 days. Plaintiff never resided at the subject premises. In 2015, the Town enacted Local Law 9 of 2015 (Local Law 9), which amended the Town Zoning Code to prohibit short-term rentals in certain zoning districts, except where the owner also resided on the premises. The Town enacted the law in response to significant adverse impacts to the community that it found were caused by permitting short-term rental of residential properties to occur. Local Law 9 contained a one-year amortization period—which could be extended up to three times upon application—during which preexisting short-term rental properties could cease operation. * * *

… [P]laintiff did not submit evidence establishing that, due to the prohibition under Local Law 9 on short-term rentals, the subject premises was not capable of producing a reasonable return on his investment or that it was not adaptable to other suitable private use. Instead, plaintiff’s submissions showed a “mere diminution in the value of the property, . . . [which] is insufficient to demonstrate a [regulatory] taking” … . Matter of Wallace v Town of Grand Is., 2020 NY Slip Op 03301, Fourth Dept 6-12-20

 


HEARSAY STATEMENTS BY THE ONLY WITNESS TO IDENTIFY DEFENDANT AS A PERPETRATOR INDICATED THE WITNESS WAS NOT IN FACT ABLE TO IDENTIFY ANY OF THE PERPETRATORS; THE INCONSISTENT STATEMENTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ADMITTED BECAUSE THEY WENT TO A CORE ISSUE IN THE CASE IMPLICATING THE RIGHT TO PUT ON A DEFENSE; CONVICTION REVERSED (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing defendant’s conviction, determined that a hearsay statement allegedly made by the only witness (Lindsay) to identify the defendant as one of the masked intruders in this home-invasion murder-assault-burglary case should have been allowed in evidence. Lindsay, who was shot by one of the intruders, initially claimed he could not identify anyone because they were wearing face-coverings. He later identified the defendant and the others, claiming that he initially did not identify them because he was afraid. The witness who was not allowed to testify, Boyd, is Lindsay’s brother. Boyd would have testified that Lindsay repeatedly told him he could not identify any of the intruders. Boyd had contacted defense counsel only after Lindsay testified so no foundation for Boyd’s testimony had been laid. The prosecutor was willing to allow Lindsay to be recalled for that purpose:

“Once a proper foundation is laid, a party may show that an adversary’s witness has, on another occasion, made oral or written statements which are inconsistent with some material part of the trial testimony, for the purpose of impeaching the credibility and thereby discrediting the testimony of the witness” … . “Since evidence of inconsistent statements is often collateral to the ultimate issue before the [trier of fact] and bears only upon the credibility of the witness, its admissibility is entrusted to the sound discretion of the Trial Judge’” … . Indeed, “[i]t is well established that the trial courts have broad discretion to keep the proceedings within manageable limits and to curtail exploration of collateral matters” … . However, “the trial court’s discretion in this area is circumscribed by the defendant’s constitutional rights to present a defense and confront his accusers” … . “Thus, while a trial court may preclude impeachment evidence that is speculative, remote, or collateral, [that] rule . . . has no application where the issue to which the evidence relates is material in the sense that it is relevant to the very issues that the [trier of fact] must decide’” … .

“Where the truth of the matter asserted in the proffered inconsistent statement is relevant to a core factual issue of a case, its relevancy is not restricted to the issue of credibility and its probative value is not dependent on the inconsistent statement” … . Under such circumstances, the right to present a defense may “encompass[ ] the right to place before the [trier of fact] secondary forms of evidence, such as hearsay” … . “Indeed where constitutional rights directly affecting the ascertainment of guilt are implicated, the hearsay rule may not be applied mechanistically to defeat the ends of justice’” … . People v Butts, 2020 NY Slip Op 03243, Second Dept 6-10-20

 


14-MONTH DELAY IN THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE RECORD DID NOT DEPRIVE DEFENDANT OF HIS RIGHT TO APPEAL (THIRD DEPT).

The Third Department determined the 14-month stenographic delay, which prevented the perfection of defendant’s appeal until after his release, did not deprive him of due process of law. Defendant contested his resentence after pleading guilty to a probation violation:

Defendant argues that he was deprived of his right to appeal — and, thus, his right to due process — by approximately 14 months of stenographic delays prior to him obtaining the complete record in this matter so as to perfect his appeal … . He asserts that, because he has since been released from custody, and, thus, may no longer reasonably challenge the propriety of the resentence imposed — apparently the only issue taken with regard to the underlying proceedings — this Court should vacate, with prejudice, Supreme Court’s finding that he violated his probation and dismiss the associated declaration of delinquency … .

Despite the unfortunate appellate delay, defendant has failed to establish that it resulted in prejudice so as to warrant the summary remedy he seeks … ; his sole argument regarding his resentence would have been equally unpersuasive had it been before us on any earlier date. * * * Without some showing of how he has been prejudiced by this singular claim being rendered moot, we cannot conclude that defendant suffered a deprivation of due process by the delays alleged … . People v McCray, 2020 NY Slip Op 03154, Third Dept 6-4-20

 


HABEAS CORPUS PETITION ORDERING THE RELEASE OF A PRISONER BECAUSE OF THE RISK POSED BY COVID-19 SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN GRANTED; THE PETITION DID NOT DEMONSTRATE THE PRISON OFFICIALS WERE DELIBERATELY INDIFFERENT TO THE RISK (THIRD DEPT).

The Third Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Devine, reversing Supreme Court, determined the habeas corpus petition seeking the release from prison of a 68-year-old prisoner because of the danger of contracting COVID-19 should not have been granted. At the time the appeal was heard, the inmate, Muntaqim, was hospitalized with COVID-19. The appeal was heard as an exception to the mootness doctrine because the situation is likely to recur. Although the petition established Muntaqim was incarcerated under conditions which could cause him serious harm, the petition did not demonstrate the prison personnel were deliberately indifferent to the risk. The prison respondents outlined the steps taken and the prison to reduce the spread of the disease:

Petitioner arguably established that Muntaqim was “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm” … . Annexed to the petition is a letter from a physician who discussed Muntaqim’s medical condition and opined that he was at extreme risk of “a serious and possible fatal outcome if infected with the novel coronavirus” responsible for causing COVID-19, as well as a letter from a group of physicians who explained that the novel coronavirus is quite infectious and that serious outbreaks in prisons were inevitable given the close contact between individuals inherent to the prison setting. … What petitioner failed to demonstrate, however, was deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. Petitioner provided nothing from anyone with firsthand knowledge — including Muntaqim, who neither verified the petition nor submitted an affidavit in support of it — as to what was being done to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus at SCF [Sullivan Correctional Facility] or to protect inmates at high risk from COVID-19. In contrast, respondents came forward with the affidavit of respondent Superintendent of SCF, who detailed the steps that had been taken up to that point to prevent the introduction of the novel coronavirus into the facility and reduce the risks of potential transmission. … Supreme Court determined that DOCCS had “done nothing wrong” in its response to the burgeoning threat. Petitioner has not demonstrated the subjective element of deliberate indifference required to establish an Eighth Amendment violation. People ex rel. Carroll v Keyser, 2020 NY Slip Op 03169, Third Dept 6-4-20

 


THE ARBITRATION AGREEMENT CALLED FOR NOTIFICATION OF AN ARBITRATION BY CERTIFIED MAIL; ALTHOUGH THE APPELLANT APPARENTLY NEVER PICKED UP THE MAILED NOTICE AND DID NOT APPEAR AT THE ARBITRATION, HER DUE PROCESS RIGHTS WERE NOT VIOLATED; THE PARTIES’ AGREEMENT ON THE METHOD OF SERVICE CONTROLS (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Miller, determined the appellant, a registered broker with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), was bound by the notice requirements in the arbitration agreement. The agreement called for notification of an arbitration by certified mail. The appellant did not appear and her former client was awarded over $3 million. The appellant sought to vacate the award arguing that notification by mail deprived her of due process because she was often away from her residence and the client was aware she could be contacted by email. The certified mail notification was never picked up by the appellant:

… [I]n the context of binding arbitration, it is the parties’ consent which vests the authority in the arbitrator to decide a particular dispute. Accordingly, although the CPLR provides that a demand for arbitration, or a notice of intention to arbitrate, must be served “in the same manner as a summons or by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested” (CPLR 7503[c]), New York courts have long recognized that “parties to an arbitration agreement may prescribe a method of service different from that set forth in the CPLR” … . Indeed, “the parties may agree to other methods for service, either by stipulating the manner in the arbitration clause or, more generally, by adopting the arbitration rules of an arbitration agency” … . “Where . . . parties agree to the manner in which a demand for arbitration can be served, they do not have to comply with the service requirements established by CPLR 7503(c)” … . * * *

Where parties to an arbitration agreement have consented to an alternative method of service, “[t]he method of service by which parties have agreed to be bound must be complied with according to the exact terms thereof in order that the requirements of due process be satisfied” … . Matter of New Brunswick Theol. Seminary v Van Dyke, 2020 NY Slip Op 03114, Second Dept 6-3-20

 


ALTHOUGH MOTHER DID NOT APPEAR AT THE SCHEDULED CONFERENCE AND DID NOT HAVE A MERITORIOUS DEFENSE IN THIS NEGLECT PROCEEDING, SHE WAS NOT AWARE FINDINGS OF FACT WOULD BE MADE IN HER ABSENCE; DEFAULT ORDER VACATED ON DUE PROCESS GROUNDS (THIRD DEPT).

The Third Department, reversing Family Court, determined mother was deprived of her right to due process when findings of fact were made in her absence in this neglect proceeding. Although mother did not appear at a scheduled conference, mother was not aware findings of fact would be made:

A parent has a right “to be present at every stage of” a Family Ct Act article 10 proceeding as a matter of due process, but that right “is not absolute” … . Family Ct Act § 1042 provides that “a court may proceed with a hearing . . . in a parent’s absence, so long as the subject child is represented by counsel, and the absent parent may thereafter move to vacate the resulting order and schedule a rehearing” … . Vacatur of that order would ordinarily be warranted if, upon motion, the parent demonstrated “a meritorious defense to the petition, unless . . . [he or she] willfully refused to appear at the hearing” … . If the parent demonstrates that the default itself resulted from a deprivation of his or her “fundamental due process rights,” however, the default is a nullity and no showing of a meritorious defense is required … . …

… [A]lthough respondent was arguably on notice of the April 2018 conference, she did not receive notice that a potential fact-finding hearing might be conducted at it so as to satisfy due process … . Indeed, despite the references in the order of fact-finding to an inquest, there is no dispute that Family Court departed from “the proper course” of conducting a hearing in respondent’s absence by accepting the allegations in the petition as proven by virtue of respondent’s default … . It would offend due process to hold that respondent “default[ed] in attending a hearing that she did not know was going to happen and did not, in fact, happen” … . Thus, notwithstanding the failure of respondent to articulate a meritorious defense, Family Court abused its discretion in denying respondent’s motion. Matter of Arra L. (Christine L.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02829, Third Dept 5-14-20

 


THE RECORD DID NOT SUPPORT DEFENDANT’S ARGUMENT THAT DEFENSE COUNSEL WAS INEFFECTIVE FOR FAILING TO CHALLENGE AN ALLEGEDLY BIASED JUROR; THE RECORD DID NOT SUPPORT A CONSTITUTIONAL INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE CLAIM; THEREFORE DIRECT APPEAL, AS OPPOSED TO A MOTION TO VACATE THE CONVICTION, WAS NOT AVAILABLE (CT APP).

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge DiFiore, over a comprehensive, extended dissenting opinion, determined defendant’s constitutional ineffective assistance argument based upon defense counsel’s failure to challenge an allegedly biased juror was properly rejected. The record was deemed insufficient to support the constitutional challenge. A motion to vacate the conviction, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law section 440, based upon matters not in the record, may be the only avenue available to the defendant here. The defendant was charged with depraved indifference murder stemming from a drive-by shooting:

We reject defendant’s argument here that prospective juror number 10’s statements during voir dire reflect actual bias against defendant predicated on any evidence precluding the juror from rendering an impartial verdict, as opposed to general discomfort with the case based on media coverage. Contrary to defendant’s assertion, the juror’s verbatim statements did not reveal what about the case gave rise to his uneasiness — whether it be the seemingly random nature of the shooting, the defendant’s or victim’s identity, or the manner in which the police investigated … . Nor did this juror convey that his uneasiness was connected to any particular personal experience or relationship, … or whether his impressions risked predisposition toward the prosecution or defense. Moreover, as both the prosecutor and trial court indicated in questioning the juror, this case turned not on a dispute about the nature of the crime but on the prosecutor’s ability to prove that this defendant committed it — an issue not impacted by the juror’s apprehension.  * * *

A defendant’s views at trial about a prospective juror as conveyed to counsel are relevant to an ineffectiveness claim based on the joint decision to accept that juror. Here, where we do not know what was said between defendant and his counsel or how that conversation may have affected counsel’s impression of prospective juror number 10, the ineffective assistance claim cannot be resolved on direct appeal. People v Maffei, 2020 NY Slip Op 02680, CtApp 5-7-20

 


FATHER WAS DENIED DUE PROCESS WHEN THE COURT TOOK SIX MONTHS TO HOLD A POST-DISPOSITIONAL HEARING AFTER A FAILED TRIAL DISCHARGE OF THE CHILDREN TO FATHER; THE CHILDREN WERE FINALLY RETURNED TO FATHER AND THE APPEAL WAS CONSIDERED AS AN EXCEPTION TO THE MOOTNESS DOCTRINE (FIRST DEPT).

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Singh, determined that father was entitled to an expedited post-dispositional hearing after the children were removed from the father’s custody based upon a failed trial discharge. The children were eventually returned to father, but the hearing took six months and the children were not returned to father until eight months after the decision was issued. The First Department ruled on the appeal as an exception to the mootness doctrine, finding that this situation was likely to recur. The court held that father was entitled to an “expedited hearing” after the children were removed under due process principles:

We find that a parent’s private interest in having custody of his or her children, the children’s private interest in residing with their parent, and the undisputed harm to these interests are factors that merit equal consideration. On this record, ACS [Administration for Children’s Services]  fails to establish that the lengthy delay was related to its interest in protecting the children. Rather, the hearing was prolonged over six months because of the court’s and attorneys’ scheduling conflicts. There is no indication that the completion of the hearing was caused by difficult legal issues, or by the need to obtain elusive evidence, or by some other factor related to an accurate assessment of the best interest of the children … .

Even though this is a post-dispositional matter, the father is entitled to the strict due process safeguards afforded in neglect proceedings. “The fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody, and management of their child does not evaporate simply because they have not been model parents or have lost temporary custody of their child to the State” … . This rationale equally applies to the primacy of a parent’s fundamental liberty interest, and the importance of procedural due process in protecting that interest, particularly when a parent and child are physically separated … . Accordingly, we find that a parent is entitled to a prompt hearing on the agency’s determination to remove the children from his or her physical custody through a failed trial discharge. Matter of F.W. (Monroe W.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02385, First Dept 4-23-20

 


THE “FALSELY REPORTING AN INCIDENT” STATUTE IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL AS APPLIED TO DEFENDANT’S FALSE TWEETS ALLEGING A RACIALLY-MOTIVATED ASSAULT (THIRD DEPT).

The Third Department, reversing defendant’s “falsely reporting an incident” conviction, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Pritzker, determined defendant’s tweets were protected by the First Amendment. Defendant was accused of falsely tweeting she was the victim of a racially-motivated assault:

… [A]lthough it was “not unlikely” that defendant’s false tweets about a racial assault at a state university would cause public alarm (Penal Law § 240.50 [1]), what level of public alarm rises to the level of criminal liability? Indeed, United States v Alvarez (567 US at 734 [Breyer, J., concurring]) informs us that criminalizing false speech requires either proof of specific harm to identifiable victims or a great likelihood of harm. Certainly, general concern by those reading defendant’s tweets does not rise to that level, nor does the proof adduced at trial, which established that defendant’s tweets were “retweeted” a significant number of times. In fact, because these “retweets” led to nothing more than a charged online discussion about whether a racially motivated assault did in fact occur, which falls far short of meeting the standard set forth in United States v Alvarez (567 US at 734 [Breyer, J., concurring]), we reach the inescapable conclusion that Penal Law § 240.50 (1), as applied to defendant’s conduct, is unconstitutional. …

… “[T]he remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true” (United States v Alvarez, 567 US at 727) and “social media platforms are information-disseminating fora. By the very nature of social media, falsehoods can quickly and effectively be countered by truth, making the criminalizing of false speech on social media not ‘actually necessary’ to prevent alarm and inconvenience” … . This could not be more apparent here, where defendant’s false tweets were largely debunked through counter speech; thus, criminalizing her speech by way of Penal Law § 240.50 (1) was not actually necessary to prevent public alarm and inconvenience … . People v Burwell, 2020 NY Slip Op 02205, Third Dept 4-9-20

 

Copyright © 2019 New York Appellate Digest.