Most television police and law dramas don’t fully explain the process involved in the criminal justice system, and more specifically of criminal appeals in New York.
Perhaps that’s because it wouldn’t make for good television or be entertaining to viewers. That’s probably true, but for people steeped in the criminal justice system, it is critically important.
The criminal justice system is a checks and balances-based system. Great Neck criminal defense lawyers are hired to ensure state prosecutors are practicing within the law and not breaking any rules and vice versa. Judges are hired to oversee a criminal defendant’s case and to make sure the defendant gets a fair trial in accordance with that person’s rights and the local rules of the court.
But the appeals system is to hold all of them accountable. If mistakes are made at the trial level, the appeals process is designed to make sure the defendant has a voice to fix those problems. Sometimes, that results in a new trial. Other times, it means the charges can be dropped altogether if the offenses are that egregious.
Most court officials try to do a good job with the resources they have. But there are examples of overzealous police officers and prosecutors and judges who abuse their power and the result is the defendant’s rights being violated. That’s what a good criminal appeal is for.
In the recent Maryland case of State v. Allen, a judge’s mistake in two separate trials led to the granting of a third trial in a major murder cases. And while State v. Allen deals with murder, this applies to any type of crime, including robbery in New York, burglary in Great Neck or any other type of charge.
This case goes back to 2001, where Jeffrey Allen killed his friend John Butler during an argument. According to court documents, Allen asked Butler for a ride and Butler wouldn’t. The two got into a fight and Allen stabbed Butler to death, drove the car off and later crashed it. He was subsequently arrested.
The state charged Allen with first-degree felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder, armed robbery and other, less serious charges. At trial, a judge made a mistake when he told jurors that in order to convict the name of first-degree felony murder, they could find that he planned the robbery either before or after the murder.
On appeal, a court ruled that an “afterthought” robbery couldn’t be the basis for a first-degree felony murder charge. In order to prove felony murder, the state must show that a murder occurred during the commission of another felony, such as robbery.
The court upheld the second-degree murder charge, armed robbery charge and other charges, but sent the felony murder charge back for a new trial. During the second trial, the judge erred when he told jurors that the man had already been convicted of second-degree murder and armed robbery an that they only had to find him guilty or not guilty of felony murder.
By telling jurors the man had already been convicted of those two charges — the two charges that make up the felony murder charge — the judge essentially told the jury the defendant was guilty. Again, an appeals court granted a new trial.
This case may have been a rare example, but courts throughout New York have had similar problems. An off-hand remark or a blatant error can lead to a new trial or dropped charges, but only if an experienced Great Neck criminal appeals lawyer is on the case.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides criminal appeals counsel in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.
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