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The Third Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a man for five counts of sexual abuse in the first degree due to prosecutorial misconduct. Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague’s questioning of a witness was designed to illicit improper testimony, the Court found, which led to the introduction of inadmissible evidence. The County Court’s curative instruction wasn’t enough to ensure a fair trial for the defendant, and despite weighty evidence of his guilt, the Court found that he was entitled to a new trial.

The Court’s opinion reads:

It is beyond dispute that evidence of a defendant’s uncharged crimes or prior bad acts cannot be admitted solely for the purpose of proving criminal propensity (see People v Cass, 18 NY3d 553, 559 [2012]; People v Arafet, 13 NY3d 460, 464-465 [2009]). Rather, “evidence of uncharged crimes or prior bad acts may be admitted where they fall within the recognized Molineux exceptions – motive, intent, absence of mistake, common plan or scheme and identity – or where such proof is inextricably interwoven with the charged crimes, provide[s] necessary background or complete[s] a witness’s narrative”…

[T]he record before us fails to establish that the uncharged crime/prior bad act at issue, which implicated defendant engaging in sexual contact with another underage victim, falls within any of the recognized Molineux exceptions…and we are persuaded that whatever probative value such proof may possess “is far outweighed by its obvious prejudice to defendant”.

In contrast to a recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces where a prosecutor’s extensive misconduct was deemed “harmless error”, these judges found that – though they were satisfied that the underlying convictions in the case  were supported by the weight of the evidence, they were nonetheless “constrained to conclude that defendant is entitled to a new trial” because of the State’s wrongful introduction of prior bad acts evidence.

Read the 5 page opinion in here.

Read a story on the ruling in the North Country Gazette here.


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