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Defendant Files a 440 Motion

The Facts:

Defendant was originally charged with Rape in the First Degree, Sodomy in the First Degree, Sexual Abuse in the First Degree, and Menacing in the Third Degree.

Thereafter, defendant was found guilty of Sodomy in the First Degree but not guilty on the rest of the charges. Defendant was sentenced on 4 December 2002 to a 25 year determinate state prison sentence.

A New York Drug Crime Lawyer said the defendant filed a 440 motion based upon a number of claims. On 28 November 2005, the court denied a portion of the motion without a hearing but granted a hearing to determine whether or not the People had actual knowledge of the Brady material that was not turned over to defendant. The Brady material was the fact that just weeks before defendant’s trial, complainant had accused another person of a rape occurring under similar circumstances as to the charge against defendant. The issue to be determined at the hearing was whether or not the People had actual knowledge of the Brady material and if so, whether there was a reasonable probability, if such evidence was disclosed to the defense, that the result of the trial would have been different. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said that prior to the scheduled hearing the People submitted a stipulation by the prosecuting assistant district attorney (ADA), that prior to defendant’s trial, the ADA was aware that the complainant had made another rape allegation against a third party a few weeks before defendant’s trial. The ADA failed to disclose the information to the defense or the court.

The Ruling:

The standard of review for failure to disclose Brady material will depend upon whether the defendant has made a specific request for such information or a general request for such information. Failure to furnish exculpatory information where there has been a specific request for such information will warrant reversal if there is a reasonable possibility that the omitted evidence contributed to the defendant’s conviction. A Nassau County Drug Possession Lawyer said if there has been a general request for Brady material, a verdict must be vacated if the admitted evidence creates a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine the court’s confidence in the outcome of the trial.

Here, defendant claims that he made a specific Brady demand and therefore the standard of review should be the reasonable possibility test. However, after reviewing the entire trial file as well as defendant’s 440 motion, the court does not find a specific request for information concerning any prior or subsequent complaints of rape by the complainant in regard to third parties.

The exhibit presented on defendant’s 440 motion is not a specific request for such Brady material; it deals with the court’s examination of school and Family Court records of the complainant for any past or present mental conditions affecting her credibility; the request did not deal with any prior or subsequent complaints of rape against third parties. Therefore, it is the court’s position that the reasonable probability standard is the test for review.

Now, the court must take into consideration whether or not the subsequent rape complaint against another person would have been allowed for cross-examination at defendant’s trial.

A Queens Drug Possession Lawyer said that under the law, a victim’s complaint of an unrelated sex crime falls outside the scope of the Rape Shield Law. Therefore, a complaint’s admissibility for purposes of impeachment rests within the discretion of the trial court. Appellate cases have consistently held that it is not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to refuse to allow impeachment unless the defendant can show that the other rape complaint was false or that it was suggestive of a pattern that cast doubt on the validity of, or bore a significant probative relation to, the instant charges. Whether or not a pattern has been suggested, the circumstances or manner of the alleged sex complaint or the currency of the complaints must be considered.

Here, the People do not contest the defendant’s assertion that the subsequent rape accusation against another person was similar in nature and circumstances to the accusation against defendant. However, while two similar allegations of rape may not be sufficient to show a pattern, they certainly are sufficient to suggest a pattern when considering the frequency of such occurrences and the fact that the similar rapes occurred within less than a year of each other. Adding to the suggestion of a pattern was the complainant’s father’s trial testimony that approximately three months before the complaint against defendant, the complainant had threatened to falsely accuse the father of rape when he attempted to discipline the complainant for her behavior. Under the rules, when the complainant provides the only testimony of the sexual assault, the credibility of the complainant is critical and is an important factor when determining whether or not to allow impeachment. It must be noted that the complainant was the only witness to provide direct testimony regarding the facts of the charges. Therefore, had the court been aware of the pending rape complaint against another person, it would have allowed the defense to cross-examine the complainant regarding the complaint.

In sum, the reasonable probability test must be viewed in the context of the entire record of each case. In the case at bar, the complainant’s credibility was critical. The complainant’s credibility was impeached by the testimony of her father as well as the defendant. Also, the People’s own witness impeached the credibility of the complainant. Such witness, a friend of the complainant, testified that the complainant told her the defendant tried to have sex with her but that he couldn’t get it in. This was completely contrary to the complainant’s trial testimony regarding the rape charge where she stated that “He put his penis inside me. Held my other arm and started pushing hard inside me.”

Obviously, from the jury’s verdict, they chose to discredit the credibility of the complainant regarding her claim of rape, sexual abuse and menacing.

The People allege that withholding the additional impeachment material was harmless since the People’s own witness provided far more damaging testimony concerning the complainant’s credibility. Therefore, the People reason, additional impeachment concerning a similar documented rape claim would not have affected the jury’s verdict. However, the court finds that such analysis is not appropriate since the cumulative effect of impeachment material must be considered to determine any possible effect on the outcome of the trial. This one additional impeachment item could have provided sufficient synergy with the other impeachment material for the jury to discredit the complainant’s entire testimony and not just her testimony regarding three out of the four charges.

The fact that another person subsequently pled to an attempted rape as part of a concurrent plea deal with several unrelated robbery charges does not change the required result. Use at the time of the trial is the determinative test. The People should be admonished for their failure to disclose the Brady information. Even considering their contention that the information was not Brady material, which the court has ruled to the contrary, there was no valid legal reason why the information should not have been disclosed prior to trial for the court to make a decision. Surely, in the context of this case, the People knew the undisclosed Brady material would have been useful to the defense. The only reason not to divulge it would be for the People to gain some tactical and unfair advantage that clearly violates the People’s professional responsibility. A prosecutor should not intentionally avoid pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor’s case or aid the accused. A prosecutor has a duty to seek justice and not merely to convict. Clearly, if the People had fulfilled their professional responsibility, a retrial would not be necessary.

Henceforth, there is a reasonable probability, upon consideration of the entire records of the case, sufficient to undermine the court’s confidence in the outcome of the trial based upon the withheld Brady material by the People. Thus, defendant’s motion to vacate the judgment of conviction is granted and a new trial is ordered.

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