On September 8, 11 and 12, 1972, an undercover police officer bought cocaine from a man at the Franz Segal Park. The police officer’ back-up team in the area did not actually see the exchange of money for the cocaine. The police officer just showed his back-up team the evidence of the cocaine he bought from the man in the park which was confirmed to be cocaine.
On September 13 and 18, 1972, the defendant again sold cocaine to another undercover police officer at the same area of Franz Segal Park. When the police arrested the defendant in his apartment they discovered marijuana in a bookcase and cocaine hidden inside the inner door of a refrigerator.
The man was charged with selling cocaine on September 8, 11 and 12, 1972. He was charged also for cocaine possession and selling on September 13 and 18, 1972. And he was charged for marijuana possession and cocaine possession for the drugs found in his apartment during his arrest.
During the trial for selling cocaine on September 8, 11 and 12, 1972, the defendant pleaded guilty to the other charges of selling and possession of cocaine and marijuana discovered in his apartment during his arrest on September 22, 1972.
The defendant testified in his own defense. During his cross-examination, the prosecutor asked detailed questions regarding his guilty pleas in the two other cases for criminal selling and possession of cocaine. The questions extensively probed the similarity of the areas; the similarity of the time of day of the sales; and the variety and amount of the cocaine. He was also asked regarding the separate charges for the September 13 and 18, 1972 cocaine possession. The defense counsel objected that the questions were prejudicial to the defendant but the trial judge overruled the objections.
According to a New York Criminal Lawyer, he defendant was convicted by a jury on all three counts of cocaine selling on September 8, 11 and 12, 1972. The defendant appealed on the ground that the cross-examination was improper and prejudicial. The manner of the questioning tended to prove his tendency or propensity to sell drugs.
The Supreme Court of Bronx County agreed: under criminal law, the extensive cross-examination about the other drug cases were improper and highly prejudicial as the questions showed defendant’s propensity of possessing and selling drugs. Cross-examining the defendant on prior criminal acts is permitted but solely to impeach his credibility as a witness. It cannot be used to lead the jury to believe that the prior criminal acts are proof of the commission of the present charges of cocaine and marijuana possession and selling. It cannot be used to show that defendant was a regular trafficker in dangerous drugs.
The defendant’s conviction was overturned and he was granted a new trial.
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