Appellate Division Vacates Murder Conviction Based on Compelling Prejudice from Joint Trial

August 11, 2016 by Marshall A. Mintz · Leave a Comment 

In People v. Lessane, the Appellate Division, Second Department vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial finding that Lessane suffered unreasonable prejudice from being tried jointly with a co-defendant.

Prior to trial, Lessane sought a severance because his defense was in direct conflict with that of his co-defendant. However, the court denied that motion without extensive explanation. During the trial, the co-defendant repeated argued that Lessane was guilty (which would exculpate the co-defendant). Lessane sought a mistrial numerous times, and the trial judge denied each request. The co-defendant was acquitted of all charges and Lessane was convicted of some counts.

In finding that Lessane’s trial rights were violated, the Appellate Division noted that there were “irreconcilable” conflicts between the defenses and that co-defendant’s counsel brought out damaging evidence against Lessane which the prosecutor would not have been able to present. Thus, there was such “compelling prejudice” as to render the trial Constitutionally unfair.

(Disclosure: I represented Lessane on appeal but not at the initial trial)

Conviction under NY Penal Law 265.01 does not require defendant to know that particular knife fits statutory definition of “gravity knife”

May 4, 2016 by Marshall A. Mintz · Leave a Comment 

In New York, a person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree [NY Penal Law 265.01(1)] when : “[h]e or she possesses any . . . gravity knife.” A “gravity knife” is defined as “any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.”

In People v. Parrilla, the Court of Appeals ruled that the statutory language only required a person’s knowing possession of a knife – not that the knife met the definition of “gravity knife” under the statute.