The Third Department determined it was reversible error to allow the defendant, who was convicted of manslaughter, to be cross-examinated about a unrelated prior crime involving an altercation and violence. The evidence was not relevant to credibility and served only to demonstrate a propensity to instigate fights:
The People sought the court’s permission to cross-examine defendant about a previous guilty plea to a charge of harassment in the second degree based upon defendant’s physical altercation with another woman, maintaining that such questioning would be useful to, among other things, impeach defendant’s credibility. Despite defendant’s objection that such line of questioning would have no probative value, the court allowed the proposed cross-examination, stating that such evidence of defendant’s previous assault was “relevant” to “show that [defendant] can be physically aggressive” and, additionally, that such proof would speak to defendant’s anticipated testimony that she had acted in self-defense. The court went on to indicate that the admission of such evidence would not unduly prejudice defendant inasmuch as the prior incident did not involve a weapon or result in serious physical injury.
Based upon County Court’s authorization, the People cross-examined defendant at trial about the previous altercation, suggesting that defendant had instigated the fight and, further, emphasizing that defendant punched the woman with a closed fist, causing her to lose a tooth. Moments later, the People resumed its questioning about the altercation with the victim, asking defendant whether she baited the victim to come up to her apartment knowing that she would use a knife in a fight with the victim. As the questions regarding defendant’s prior assault bore no relation to defendant’s credibility, but rather served solely to illustrate defendant’s propensity to initiate fights so that she could physically attack other people, we find that County Court abused its discretion in allowing such inquiries … . Accordingly, as defendant’s guilt was not overwhelmingly established by the proof presented at trial and we “cannot say that there is no reasonable possibility that the error might have contributed to defendant’s conviction,” the judgment must be reversed and the matter remitted for a new trial … . People v Karuzas, 2015 NY Slip Op 00252, 3rd Dept 1-8-15