People v. Carmack
Court Discusses the Prejudicial Effect of Cross-examination by the Prosecution
The defendant was charged with criminally selling heroin to an undercover agent. The defendant was arrested after he was observed by two police officers from a distance but the details of the sale were only supplied by the defendant and the undercover agent who had a criminal record. Prior to the trial a Sandoval Hearing was requested by the defendant to determine the parts of the defendant’s criminal record the prosecution could mention during cross-examination if the defendant were to testify at the trial. It was decided that the prosecution was permitted to question the defendant about his arrest which charged him of possession of hypodermic instrument which was later dismissed without prejudice by the District Attorney. The prosecution was also permitted to question the defendant on a charge of possession of a weapon and a charge for attempted criminal possession of a dangerous drug. The defendant testified at his trial about his prior convictions of possession of weapons and attempted possession of a dangerous drug. The prosecution cross-examined the defendant on his drug habits such as his history of addiction and the cost of his drug habits which led to the defendant impeaching himself. The prosecution’s questions led the jury to adopt an inference of guilt from his testimony during their cross-examination. As a result, the defendant was convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance (heroin) in the third degree. The defendant appealed his convicted on the ground that the prosecution’s cross-examination led to the jury adopting an impermissible inference of guilty as a result of his testimony.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court ordered a new trial as the prosecutor’s cross-examination during the trial regarding the defendant’s prior drug conviction and drug habits was improper. The introduction of the defendant’s prior bad acts into evidence would be only be permissible where an inference would had been drawn that he did not have respect for the truth because of his prior bad acts. However, it was impermissible when an inference was drawn that a person who had sinned as a result of the prior acts made them guilty of the crime charged. The prosecution was permitted to cross-examine the defendant on his immoral and criminal acts to impeach his credibility as a witness. However, the prosecution was not permitted to question to defendant where there was an intention to show that the defendant had a predisposition to commit the crime charged with. The defendant’s testimony should not have been admissible as the prejudicial effect of it outweighed the probative value as the evidence on the issue of credibility.
There was a substantial risk of prejudice when the court permitted the District Attorney to cross-examine the defendant regarding his prior conviction at the conclusion of the Sandoval hearing. The defendant’s prior conviction of attempted possession and his arrest for criminal possession of hypodermic instrument was similar to the crime in which he was charged with and there was a belief that habitual drug users would violate the law to supply their habits. Therefore, the defendant suffered prejudice as a result of the ruling of the Sandoval hearing
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