The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Wan, addressing a matter of first impression, determined petitioner’s FOIL request for documents and evidence related to his murder prosecution should not have been denied on the ground that granting the request would interfere with petitioner’s pending habeas corpus proceedings in federal court. The federal court issued a stay-and-abeyance order in the habeas corpus action to allow petitioner to exhaust his state remedies. Because the stay-and-abeyance order is in effect, the Second Department held that responding to the FOIL request would not interfere with the habeas corpus proceedings and the petition to compel production of the requested records should have been granted:
On July 12, 2020, the petitioner made a request to the Kings County District Attorney (hereinafter the District Attorney), pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law …, for “any and all material” related to the matter of People v Sarkodie, Indictment No. 2544/13, “including, but not limited to, any and all recordings, whether video or audio, DD-5’s, medical reports, witness statements, police memo books, crime scene investigative reports, evidence vouchers, and ballistics reports.” … On December 13, 2020, the petitioner’s counsel filed a second habeas corpus petition in the EDNY, which was consolidated with the petitioner’s pro se habeas petition In the federal habeas proceeding, the petitioner alleged both exhausted and unexhausted state law claims.
By order dated December 23, 2020 (hereinafter the stay-and-abeyance order), the EDNY acknowledged that the federal habeas proceeding “contains unexhausted claims that are not plainly meritless.” Accordingly, the EDNY “f[ound] a stay to be appropriate and h[eld] the Petition [*2]in abeyance” to allow the petitioner to “exhaust his unexhausted claims and perfect the petition … . * * *
… [T]he District Attorney failed to establish that the records sought were exempt from disclosure pursuant to Public Officers Law § 87(2)(e)(i), since the District Attorney failed to establish that disclosure would interfere with the pending federal habeas proceeding … . Matter of Sarkodie v Kings County Dist. Attorney, 2024 NY Slip Op 00908, Second Dept 2-21-24
Practice Point: A FOIL request for documents and evidence related to defendant’s murder conviction should not have been denied on the ground that responding to the request would interfere with petitioner’s habeas corpus proceedings in federal court The federal court had issued a stay-and-abeyance order to allow petitioner to exhaust his state remedies. Therefore, the petition to compel production of the sought documents and evidence should have been granted.