IF THE SORA COURT’S RELIANCE ON THE VICTIM’S GRAND JURY TESTIMONY, WHICH WAS NOT DISCLOSED TO THE DEFENDANT, WAS ERROR, UNDER THE FACTS, IT WAS HARMLESS ERROR.
The Second Department, over an extensive dissent, determined the SORA court's reliance on the victim's grand jury testimony, which was not provided to defense counsel, did not deprive defendant of due process of law. 20 points were assessed based upon the victim's helplessness. At the grand jury, the victim testified she was asleep (i.e., helpless) when the abuse began. Because evidence disclosed to the defendant amply notified defendant of the victim's claim to have been asleep, any error in relying on the undisclosed grand jury minutes was harmless:
The Court of Appeals was recently presented with the issue of whether a defendant's due process rights were violated when the hearing court relied, in part, upon grand jury minutes that were not disclosed to the defense in reaching the defendant's SORA risk level determination (see People v Baxin, 26 NY3d 6). The Court found that “[g]iven that [the] defendant is entitled to broad discovery of the evidence that is used against him in order to be able to defend himself . . . the failure to disclose the grand jury minutes was a due process violation” … . Significantly, the Court concluded that, given the overwhelming evidence which was disclosed to the defendant in support of the same risk factor, the error was harmless … . It further recognized that “[t]his is not to say that grand jury minutes must be disclosed to the defendant in every SORA proceeding as a matter of course. It remains within the hearing court's discretion to limit the release of such minutes” … .
Guided by these principles, even assuming that the defendant should have had disclosure of the subject grand jury minutes, as in Baxin, any error in failing to disclose them was harmless. There was overwhelming, unchallenged evidence, which provided the requisite clear and convincing evidence supporting the assessment of 20 points … . The record on appeal reveals that the defendant was amply notified through statements contained in the case summary, the presentence report, and other disclosed evidence of the victim's version of the facts and, specifically, her account that she was asleep when the abuse began. Indeed, defense counsel specifically challenged the assessment of points for physical helplessness based upon the victim's account of being asleep when the sexual abuse began. The portion of the victim's grand jury testimony relied upon by the SORA Court, namely, that the victim was asleep at the beginning of the incident, is the exact account contained in the case summary, which was fully disclosed to the defendant. Under these circumstances, the victim's grand jury testimony was cumulative to the disclosed evidence … . People v Wells, 2016 NY Slip Op 02978, 2nd Dept 4-20-16