The Fourth Department reversed Supreme Court finding that a hearing should be held on defendant’s motion to vacate his conviction based on newly discovered evidence. The evidence was an affidavit from a person to whom a third person is alleged to have confessed to the murder. The Fourth Department determined the hearsay statement could be considered as a basis for the 440 motion because it met the criteria of a statement against penal interest and, although there was no showing the declarant was unavailable (a criterium for admissibility under this hearsay exception), it was reasonable to assume the declarant would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to testify (thereby becoming unavailable).
We agree with defendant that where, as here, the declarations exculpate the defendant, they “are subject to a more lenient standard, and will be found ‘sufficient if [the supportive evidence] establish[es] a reasonable possibility that the statement might be true’ ”…. That is because “ ‘[d]epriving a defendant of the opportunity to offer into evidence [at trial] another person’s admission to the crime with which he or she has been charged, even though that admission may . . . be offered [only] as a hearsay statement, may deny a defendant his or her fundamental right to present a defense’ ” …. Although the People contend that there is no evidence that the third party is unavailable, we conclude that, inasmuch as the statements attributed to the third party implicate him in a murder, there is a likelihood that, if called to testify at a trial, he would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and thus become unavailable … . People v McFarland, 729, 4th Dept 7-5-13