People v. Rahman
Court Discusses the Prejudicial Effects of a Sandoval Hearing
The defendant was arrested and charged for two counts each of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. The defendant however, stated that he had an alibi that he was visiting a friend and his aunt when the sales took place on both dates. The defendant further alleged that there was a seller imitating him. The defendant requested a Sandoval hearing to exclude his prior convictions which included drug related offenses where he chose to testify. It was concluded that the People could cross-examine him about his two prior convictions for possession of dangerous drugs. The defendant was convicted of sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. The defendant appealed the conviction on the basis that he was prejudiced during the cross-examination by the prosecution.
The prosecution’s cross-examination about prior conviction may create a risk of impermissible prejudice. The prosecution’s cross-examination of the defendant would prove to be prejudicial if the purpose of impeachment was more prejudicial rather than probative. Where the defendant had prior conviction it did not shield the defendant from it being used against him to impeach his credibility. There was no error in ruling that prosecutor could question defendant about two of his convictions. The defendant’s decision not to testify did not affect validity of fact-finding process for defendant’s alibi defense that was conveyed to jury through two alibi witnesses and defendant’s testimony was not crucial to development of misidentification defense that real culprit was a look-alike. The defendant was not only person who could have laid a foundation for introduction of photographs of such alleged look-alike during his testimony. The defendant further stated that he was prejudiced by the cross examination of the prosecution of one of his alibi witnesses. The prosecution cross-examine to his aunt to show that she had hostility and bias towards the District Attorney, the United States Attorney, the FBI and the police after her husband was accused of murder as she believed that they were conspiring against her. It was held to be a harmless error to allow the prosecutor to cross-examination the defendant’s aunt as to whether her husband had been subject of a criminal investigation, which had purpose of showing her hostility and bias toward prosecution because of her husband’s recent trouble with authorities.
The defendant conviction was affirmed because the errors which took place were not glaring to demonstrate that the defendant was prejudiced. However, the dissenting opinion of the court stated that the conviction should have been reversed. The defendant should not have been questioned as to acts which showed that he had a propensity to commit the crime alleged. The jury should have been precluded from drawing inference that the defendant had a propensity to commit the crime based on his prior conviction, as such, the trial judge erred in granting permission to question the defendant on his prior acts. The questioning of the alibi witness also proved harmful as the trial judge should not have allowed the permission to question her about her husband being subjected criminal investigation.
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