Tagged: Appellate Division

NY Court of Appeals Decides to Review 440.10 Summary Denials

In one of its last decisions of 2014, the Court of Appeals held that it will begin reviewing the Appellate Division’s summary denials of CPL 440.10(1)(g) motions.  The Court had held in People v. Crimmins38 N.Y.2d 407, 409 (1974) that

[t]he power to review a discretionary order denying a motion to vacate judgement upon the ground of newly discovered evidence ceases at the Appellate Division.

For nearly 40 years, the Crimmins decision kept the Court of Appeals from reviewing and determining whether such denials constituted “abuse of discretion.” People v. Jones, No. 14-219, ___ N.E.3d ___, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 08760, 2 (Dec. 16, 2014). In Jones, this Court overruled itself and explained that “the rule enunciated in Crimmins has needlessly restricted this Court’s power of review concerning CPL 440.10(1)(g) motions….”

In Jones, the Court held that the Appellate Division abused its discretion in summarily denying a defendant’s motion for an evidentiary hearing as part of his efforts to vacate his conviction on the ground of newly discovered evidence, pursuant to CPL 440.10(1)(g). Mr. Jones claimed that newly discovered DNA evidence would exclude him as the perpetrator of crimes of which he was convicted in 1981.  This decision signals a step in the right direction for the NY judiciary trying to grapple with evidence, like DNA, that may not have been available at the time of trial.

NY Court of Appeals Addresses the Scope of the Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” requires the police to obtain a warrant prior to searching someone’s person, house, papers, or effects for evidence of a crime, subject to certain exceptions that courts have acknowledged. A major exception is that warrantless searches and seizures are constitutionally permissible when required by “exigent circumstances.” While this exception is well recognized, courts are frequently confronted with cases in which the scope of this exception is an issue.

In 2012, New York’s Second Department Appellate Division was confronted with an appeal in People v. Jenkins in which New York City police officers, while on patrol, heard gunshots coming from the rooftop of an apartment building. Upon entering the building, the officers observed a man holding a firearm who then fled into one of the apartments in the building, along with another man. When no occupant of the apartment responded to the officers’ request to open the apartment’s locked door, the officers entered after breaking down the door with a sledgehammer.

The officers’ forcible and warrantless entry into the apartment and seizure of the two men was, given the circumstances observed by the officers, justified under the exigent circumstances exception. At issue in the case was further action by the officers in seizing and searching a silver box in which they found the gun that had been fired, which they had not otherwise been able to find on either of the men or in plain view.

The Second Department, reversing the lower court’s suppression decision, held that the exigent circumstances that justified the officers’ entry into the apartment and seizure of the suspects extended as well to justify the search of the silver box.

In a unanimous opinion issued on October 16, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals noted that by the time the officers seized and searched the silver box, they had already handcuffed the men, so there was no danger that the defendant would destroy or dispose of the gun. Nor was there any urgency for further searches to protect the officers or any of the other occupants of the apartment against harm. Therefore, any search of the silver box would have required a warrant.


  • People v. Jenkins, 100 A.D.3d, 954 N.Y.S.2d 183 (App. Div. 2d Dep’t 2012), rev’d, 2014 Slip. Op. No. 148 (N.Y. Oct. 16, 2014).

Actual Innocence: Landmark Decision Changes Post-Conviction Landscape in New York

A landmark decision by the Appellate Division, Second Department has given new hope to individuals wrongfully convicted of a crime in the state of New York, and unable to obtain post-conviction relief due to the procedural restraints statutorily imposed under New York Criminal Procedure Law. On January 15, 2014,  the Appellate Court Second Department handed down its epic decision, becoming the first New York Appellate Court to recognize a freestanding claim of actual innocence, reaffirming that the incarceration of an innocent person is inherently unconstitutional.

In People v. Hamilton, the Court ruled that a defendant’s claim of actual innocence may now be recognized as a “freestanding” ground to vacate a judgment of conviction pursuant to NY CPL 440.10. (1)(h), which provides that  a court may vacate a judgement if obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights. Notably, the Court directed  that a defendant’s claim of “actual innocence”  may be pursued  independently of the other grounds for relief prescribed by New York’s post-judgement statute, and can even be supported by evidence that may fail to survive the “newly discovered” criteria imposed under NY CPL 440.10(1)(g). The Court explained that the defendant may present a claim of actual innocence based upon  new evidence, whether or not it satisfies the Salemi factors or is barred by other legal hurdles, such as prior adverse court determinations.

The Court  directed  that relief based upon an actual innocence claim should only be granted when the court is presented with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is innocent. The court reasoned that

Mere doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or a preponderance of conflicting evidence as to the defendant’s guilt, is insufficient, since a convicted defendant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence, and in fact is presumed to be guilty.

The Court also explained that an exploration into the merits of a case may be necessary when a prima facie showing of actual innocence has been made by a defendant. In this case, the court found that Hamilton had made such a showing to require a hearing.

In response to the court’s decision, Derrick Hamilton, who spent 20 years in prison for murder, stated that “it is a crime that it has taken this long for me to receive a shot at justice.” Since his conviction, Hamilton had spent the last twenty two years  battling the criminal justice system in an effort  to clear his name. All prior attempts to vacate his conviction were denied, although making a credible presentation of alibi evidence, witness recantation, and possible manipulation of witnesses by police. The Hamilton case has also been vetted for  review by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, which is currently reviewing cases handled by retired detective Louis Scarcella. The Office has undertaken a review of about 50 homicide cases to determine whether the defendants were wrongfully convicted as a result of possible police misconduct.

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