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Defendant Claims There was Insufficient Evidence for Grand Jury Indictment

The Facts of the Case:

On 6 November 1992, at approximately 3:13 a.m., two (2) Department of Public Safety Officers at a University observed defendant carrying a dormitory lounge chair on his head as he crossed a bridge on the campus. A New York Criminal Lawyer said that upon being stopped, defendant informed the officers that he had obtained the chair in a Hall, a residence located on the North Campus, and was taking it to the West Campus as a prank, but defendant declined to confirm whether he was a student. He stated that he had no identification on his person and, despite repeated requests he refused to identify himself in any manner. Thereafter, he was informed that he would be referred to the University Judicial Administrator if he was a student, and that if he was not a student, he would be charged with petit larceny in City Court. After approximately 10 minutes of fruitless inquiries, one of the officers expressed impatience with defendant’s uncooperative behavior, at which point defendant stated that he did have identification after all, and began reaching into his pocket. One of the officers stated that he would remove the identification from defendant’s pocket himself and ordered defendant to turn and face the police car. When the officer reached for defendant’s pocket, defendant slapped his hands away. Informed that he was under arrest, defendant bolted from the officers and ran toward the gorge under the bridge. He was pursued by the other officer who caught him by the ankle as he lay on his back on the steep slope. Defendant demanded to be let go, but the officer refused. Defendant then rolled over and dragged her down the side of the gorge until she hit a concrete abutment and smashed her face and broke her teeth. Defendant ultimately escaped.

Consequently, defendant was indicted in the County Court on four counts: three misdemeanors, petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree, resisting arrest, and one felony, assault in the second degree. A Brooklyn Criminal Lawyer said the defendant then filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in its entirety which was granted by the court. However, on appeal the Appellate Division reversed the decision, holding that the evidence was sufficient for the Grand Jury to indict on the larceny and possession of stolen property counts, as defendant’s larcenous intent could be inferred from the circumstances and his admissions; and that the evidence before the Grand Jury was sufficient to sustain the charge of resisting arrest, and defendant’s intentional acts in preventing his arrest constituted sufficient evidence of the crime of assault. An appeal thereafter followed.

The Issues of the Case:

The major question presented on the appeal is whether or not the Grand Jury evidence is legally sufficient to support the indictment or that the evidence presented to the Grand Jury on each of the counts was not legally sufficient to establish the charged offenses. Along with this issue, among others, are questions of: whether or not larceny was committed; whether or not there was a larcenous intent on the part of the defendant; whether or not the charge of larceny must be dismissed; whether or not the charge of criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree must be dismissed by reason of the absence of evidence of intent to steal the chair; and whether or not the charge of assault in the second degree must also be dismissed on the ground of insufficiency of evidence.

The Ruling of the Court:

Under the rules, on a motion to dismiss an indictment, the sufficiency of the People’s presentation is properly determined by inquiring whether the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the People, if unexplained and uncontroverted, would warrant conviction by a petit jury. The Grand Jury must have before it evidence legally sufficient to establish a prima facie case, including all the elements of the crime, and reasonable cause to believe that the accused committed the offense charged. Legally sufficient evidence is defined as competent evidence which, if accepted as true, would establish every element of an offense charged and the defendant’s commission thereof. The fact that the proof presented to the Grand Jury is also susceptible of inferences of innocence is irrelevant, as long as the Grand Jury could rationally have drawn the guilty inference. The inquiry of the reviewing court is limited to ascertaining the legal sufficiency of the evidence, and does not include weighing the proof or examining its adequacy at the Grand Jury stage, or determining whether there was reasonable cause to believe the accused committed the crimes charged, as the resolution of such questions is exclusively the province of the Grand. As a rule, a person is guilty of petit larceny when he or she steals property. A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof. The intent to deprive or appropriate is satisfied by the exertion of permanent or virtually permanent control over the property taken.
Here, the court finds that the proof presented before the Grand Jury, viewed in the light most favorable to the People, was legally sufficient to support the inference that defendant acted with larcenous intent. In light of the unusual circumstances, defendant’s utter refusal to identify himself and his evasive and uncooperative behavior, there was indeed sufficient proof that defendant intended to steal the chair. That other, innocent inferences could possibly be drawn from the facts is irrelevant on the pleading stage inquiry, as long as the Grand Jury could rationally have drawn the guilty inference. Clearly, the People made out a prima facie case of larceny.

On the other hand, the law provides that a person is guilty of resisting arrest when he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a police officer or peace officer from making an authorized arrest of himself or another person. A key element of resisting arrest is the existence of an authorized arrest, including a finding that the arrest was premised on probable cause. Here, the court finds that there is no merit in the argument of the defendant that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest him for stealing the chair. In the context of a motion to dismiss an indictment, the court is limited to determining whether there was sufficient proof of facts before the Grand Jury from which it could rationally infer that the officers had probable cause to arrest for larceny, a question which the court answers in the affirmative.

On the reinstatement of the Appellate Division of the charge of assault in the second degree, the court finds it proper. Under the Penal Law, a person is guilty of assault in the second degree when, with intent to prevent a peace officer from performing a lawful duty, he causes physical injury to such peace officer. Here, the court finds that the evidence before the Grand Jury was legally sufficient to establish that defendant intended to prevent the arresting officer from performing a lawful duty and caused her to sustain serious physical injuries.

On the remaining contentions of the defendant, the court has considered them but finds them bereft of merit.

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division is affirmed.

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