The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, determined the Appellate Division did not exceed its statutory powers when it decided an evidentiary issue on grounds which were implicit in the trial court’s ruling, but not explicitly stated by the trial court. The trial judge had ruled rebuttal testimony was admissible to show defendant’s witness had lied when she testified she was currently “just friends” with the defendant. The Appellate Division found the testimony was admissible to show the defendant’s witness’s bias or motive to fabricate. The Court of Appeals held that the “bias or motive to fabricate” reasoning simply recognized the underlying premise of the trial court’s ruling, and did not violate the rule that the Appellate Division cannot decide an appeal on a ground not ruled upon by the lower court. The Court of Appeals also ruled that evidence of uncharged acts of violence against or witnessed by the child sex-abuse victim were admissible to explain the victim’s delay in reporting the abuse, and the expert evidence of Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome was properly presented despite jurors stating in voir dire that a child’s delay in reporting would be understandable. With respect to the Appellate Division’s review powers, the Court of Appeals wrote:
Where a trial court does not identify the predicate for its ruling, the Appellate Division acts appropriately in considering the import of the trial judge’s stated reasoning. Moreover, nothing in the language of CPL 470.15 (1) … prohibits an appellate court from considering the record and the proffer colloquy with counsel to understand the context of the trial court’s ultimate determination, as it did in defendant’s case. Unlike the case where the Appellate Division renders a decision on grounds explicitly different from those of the trial court, or on grounds that were clearly resolved in a defendant’s favor—the type of appellate overreaching prohibited by CPL 470.15 (1) … , the Appellate Division here affirmed the evidentiary ruling on the ground relied on by the trial court, namely to establish the defense witness lied that she and defendant were merely friends, as well as the unspoken, record-supported inferences that can be drawn from that testimony. We therefore conclude that the Appellate Division acted within its statutory appellate review power.
Any other interpretation of CPL 470.15 (1) would require a trial judge to state every analytic step underlying a determination to admit or deny evidence, no matter how obvious the reasoning from the record. This approach demands a heretofore unexpected level of descriptive technical exactitude. It would require the judiciary to participate in a laborious exercise, without obvious commensurate benefit to the parties or our system of justice. We do not mean that a trial court’s evidentiary rulings may go unexplained, that the Appellate Division may hypothesize the basis for a judge’s determination where a record is wholly devoid of reason, or that an appellate court may comb through the entirety of a record solely to cobble together some theory for the trial court’s conclusion. There must be sufficient articulation of a “reviewable predicate” … . Thus, where the trial court’s decision is fully articulated the Appellate Division’s review is limited to those grounds, but where the trial court gives a reason and there is record support for inferences to be drawn from that reason, the Appellate Division does not act beyond the parameters legislatively set forth in CPL 470.15 (1) when it considers those inferences. People v Nicholson, 2016 NY Slip Op 01206, CtApp 2-18-16
CRIMINAL LAW (APPEALS MAY BE DECIDED ON GROUNDS IMPLICIT IN THE TRIAL COURT’S RULING)/APPEALS (CRIMINAL APPEALS MAY BE DECIDED ON GROUNDS IMPLICIT IN THE TRIAL COURT’S RULING)/CRIMINAL LAW (EVIDENCE OF UNCHARGED ACTS OF VIOLENCE ADMISSIBLE TO EXPLAIN CHILD SEX-ABUSE VICTIM’S DELAY IN REPORTING)/EVIDENCE (UNCHARGED ACTS OF VIOLENCE ADMISSIBLE TO EXPLAIN CHILD SEX-ABUSE VICTIM’S DELAY IN REPORTING)/CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE ACCOMMODATION SYNDROME (EXPERT EVIDENCE ADMISSIBLE EVEN THOUGH JURORS STATED IN VOIR DIRE THEY UNDERSTOOD WHY A CHILD WOULD DELAY IN REPORTING ABUSE)