People v. Durham
Court Discusses Whether the Trial Judge Improperly Allowed Unauthorised Information Prohibited by the Sandoval Hearing
The defendant was convicted of driving while intoxication, DWI, and appealed on the ground that he did not have a fair trial. The defendant’s contention was based on the ruling of the Sandoval hearing versus what took during trial. The hearing held that if the defendant were to testify, he could be testified about his previous conviction of criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree in 1979, criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree in 1984, and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated as a felony in 1984. The court allowed the prosecution to make inquiries into fact that there was a conviction of a class E felony in 1984 for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, but there could be no inquiry into the underlying facts of that conviction. The prosecution was not permitted to cross-examine the defendant on previous uncharged crimes. When the defendant testified, he denied intoxication and stated that he had experienced a dizzy spell and pull over onto the roadside. The defendant further stated he was yanked from the vehicle and lost consciousness while the police office stuck his head to the roof of the vehicle. The prosecution asserted that the defendant was driving with a suspended license and he did not produce any indicia of ownership of the car when demanded by the arresting officer after the objection by the defendant’s Queens County Criminal Attorney. The court allowed the prosecution to question the defendant about the indicia of ownership of the car. The evidence of the uncharged crimes was not directly relevant to the question of whether the defendant committed the crime charged, and went only to credibility.
The Court of Appeal reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The purpose of the Sandoval hearing was for an accused to make an informed decision as to whether he should take the stand. The defendant was denied the right to make an informed decision after the trial court effectively changed its ruling of the Sandoval hearing by permitting cross-examination with respect to uncharged crimes on issue of credibility after he had made an informed the decision based on the conclusion of the Sandoval Hearing. The trial court errors were not seen as harmless but prejudicial to the defendant. Additionally, the prosecutor’s summation also deprived the defendant of a fair trial where the prosecution’s witnesses were repeatedly vouched for, the defendant was called a “loud drunk and the defendant’s testimony was described as a creation and fabrication.
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