COURT PROPERLY EXCLUDED SPECULATIVE EVIDENCE OF THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY; THERE IS NO HEIGHTENED STANDARD FOR ADMISSIBILITY OF THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY EVIDENCE; RATHER THE USUAL PROBATIVE VS PREJUDICIAL BALANCING TEST APPLIES.
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Garcia, determined, under an abuse of discretion standard, evidence of third-party culpability was properly excluded as speculative. Defendant was not, therefore, deprived of his constitutional right to present a complete defense when the trial court precluded evidence the defendant’s brother, Warren, was the beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy taken out by the murder victim. Here defense counsel made no specific attempt to demonstrate Warren killed the victim. Defense counsel made only vague assertions “others” could have committed the crime. The Court of Appeals made it clear there is no heightened standard for the admissibility of evidence of third-party culpability. Rather courts should apply the usual balancing test and exclude such evidence where it has slight probative value and a strong potential for undue prejudice, delay and confusion or where the evidence is so remote it does not connect the third party to the crime:
… [A]dmission of third-party culpability evidence does not necessarily require a specific accusation that an identified individual committed the crime. For example, a proffer of an unknown DNA profile may be sufficient. And we reject the trial court’s assertion that such a specific accusation “is an essential element of third-party culpability.” Such a requirement would conflict with the balancing analysis that we … reaffirm today. Nevertheless, defense counsel’s argument must be assessed based on the proffer as articulated … . The trial court was within its discretion in finding that proffer speculative and in determining the evidence to support it would have caused undue delay, prejudice, and confusion. People v Powell, 2016 NY Slip Op 02555, CtApp 4-5-16
CRIMINAL LAW (CRIMINAL LAW, COURT PROPERLY EXCLUDED SPECULATIVE EVIDENCE OF THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY)/EVIDENCE (CRIMINAL LAW, THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY, THERE IS NO HEIGHTENED STANDARD FOR ADMISSIBILITY OF THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY EVIDENCE, RATHER THE USUAL PROBATIVE VS PREJUDICIAL BALANCING TEST APPLIES)/THIRD PARTY CULPABILITY (CRIMINAL LAW, THERE IS NO HEIGHTENED STANDARD FOR ADMISSIBILITY OF THIRD-PARTY CULPABILITY EVIDENCE, RATHER, THE USUAL PROBATIVE VS PREJUDICIAL BALANCING TEST APPLIES)