The Second Department, reversing defendant's conviction, determined: (1) the robbery conviction was not supported by legally sufficient evidence of an intent to permanently, as opposed to temporarily, deprive the owner of property; (2) the trial court needed to hold a hearing to revisit defendant's motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds; and (3) the prosecutor's summation, in which the prosecutor repeatedly gave the jury the impression the defendant had the burden of proof and vouched for the People's witnesses, deprived defendant of a fair trial. The decision has substantive discussions of all three issues. With respect to prosecutorial misconduct, an issue reached in the interest of justice, the court wrote:
“[S]ummation is not an unbridled debate in which the restraints imposed at trial are cast aside so that counsel may employ all the rhetorical devices at his [or her] command” … . “Rather, [t]here are certain well-defined limits'” … . “Among other things, [the prosecutor] must stay within the four corners of the evidence and avoid irrelevant and inflammatory comments which have a tendency to prejudice the jury against the accused'” … .
Here, the prosecutor repeatedly shifted the burden of proof to the defendant, first, by telling the jurors that they could only form a reasonable doubt if they believed the defense offered by the defendant … , and then, by repeatedly telling the jurors or implying that they would have to find that the People's witnesses lied in order to believe that defense … . In essence, one of the prosecutor's themes in his summation was that the jurors had to determine whether they believed the People's witnesses or whether they believed the defendant (who testified), and only if they believed the defendant could they form a reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. Such an impression was clearly improper and prejudicial. The prosecutor additionally denigrated the defense … , and vouched for the credibility of the police witnesses based upon their position as law enforcement officers … . People v Cantoni, 2016 NY Slip Op 04232, 2nd Dept 6-1-16
CRIMINAL LAW (ROBBERY CONVICTION UNSUPPORTED BY PROOF OF INTENT TO PERMANENTLY, AS OPPOSED TO TEMPORARILY, DEPRIVE OWNER OF PROPERTY; HEARING NECESSARY TO ASSESS DEFENDANT'S SPEEDY TRIAL ARGUMENTS; PROSECUTOR'S SUMMATION DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL)/ROBBERY (ROBBERY CONVICTION UNSUPPORTED BY PROOF OF INTENT TO PERMANENTLY, AS OPPOSED TO TEMPORARILY, DEPRIVE OWNER OF PROPERTY)/SPEEDY TRIAL (HEARING NECESSARY TO ASSESS DEFENDANT'S SPEEDY TRIAL ARGUMENTS)/PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT (PROSECUTOR'S SUMMATION DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL)/ATTORNEYS (CRIMINAL LAW, PROSECUTOR'S SUMMATION DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL)