Federal Court Grants Habeas Corpus Petition in OAD Case

In Carmichael v. Chappius, OAD achieved a very rare victory on a habeas petition in federal court on behalf of OAD client, Brian Carmichael, who is serving a 17-year sentence for an A-II drug conviction.  Southern District Judge Katherine Polk Failla granted the petition on the ground that the trial court and Appellate Division unreasonably applied federal constitutional law in overruling trial counsel’s Batson claim that the prosecution exercised its peremptory challenges in a discriminatory fashion.  In granting the petition, the court declined to adopt a Magistrate’s report that recommended denial.  Moreover, the court engaged in a sophisticated and detailed analysis of Batson law and concluded that the New York courts were wrong to hold that statistical evidence alone cannot support a prima facie showing of discrimination.  As for remedy, the court remanded to the New York County Supreme Court to either (i) hold a reconstruction hearing to hear the DA’s race-neutral reasons for the strikes and ultimately decide the Batson claim, or (ii) hold a new trial.  Mr. Carmichael is represented by Sara Gurwitch. Click here to read the decision. 

Appellate Division Reverses Convictions in Two More OAD Appeals

On April 19, 2016, just two weeks after reversing convictions in two OAD appeals, the Appellate Division again reversed two convictions in OAD cases.

In People v. Ronald Hechavarria, the Appellate Division reversed our client’s robbery conviction and sentence of 15 years, based on the trial court’s improper ruling granting a reverse-Batson challenge against the defense.  As explained in the decision, there was no support for the judge’s conclusion that defense counsel’s gender-neutral reasons for the peremptory challenges at issue were pretextual.  In this case, the prosecution sought the minimum sentence of 5 years after trial, but the court imposed a term of 15 years.  On appeal, the DA agreed to a sentence reduction to 5 years, but the court went further and reversed the conviction.  Mr. Hechavarria has been out on bail pending appeal and should remain free pending resolution of the case.  Mr. Hechavarria is represented by Senior Staff Attorney Kerry Jamieson.  Read the decision here.

In People v. Malik Hawkins, the Appellate Division, in a unanimous signed opinion by Justice Roslyn H. Richter, reversed our client’s gun possession conviction and 5 year sentence.  The Appellate Division found that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to introduce photographs showing the defendants holding guns and making gang signs, as well as Facebook messages from our client months after the date of the arrest, discussing his use of guns.  The court held that this evidence was inadmissible under the Molineux rule, since they were not probative and went only to propensity to possess guns.  The court further held that, even if marginally probative, the prejudicial impact outweighed any probative value.  Mr. Hawkins is represented by Rosie Herbert, who argued the appeal.  Former OAD Staff Attorney Leila Tabbaa (now with The Bronx Defenders) worked on the brief while at OAD.  Read the decision here,

Appellate Division Reverses Convictions in Two OAD Appeals

On April 5, 2016, the Appellate Division reversed convictions in two OAD appeals.

In People v. Waun Smith, the court, in a unanimous signed opinion by Justice John W. Sweeny, Jr., agreed with OAD that where a defendant is charged with both qualifying offenses as well as other offenses that are neither defined as qualifying nor disqualifying, the defendant remains eligible for judicial diversion for drug treatment.  The court reversed Mr. Smith's forgery conviction and prison sentence and remanded for further proceedings.  This was a matter of first impression in the appellate courts, and trial courts had reached conflicting results.  Thus, this decision will have great precedential value, and will make many more defendants eligible for judicial diversion for drug treatment and an opportunity to avoid conviction and prison. Mr. Smith is represented by Thomas M. Nosewicz.  To read the decision, click here.

In People v. Devin T. Burley, the court unanimously reversed our client’s drug conviction because the court file contained a jury note, making a substantive inquiry, that was marked as an exhibit but never addressed on the record by the court.  Applying well-established law in this area, the court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.  Mr. Burley is represented by volunteer attorney Jarrod L.Schaeffer, of Debevoise & Plimpton, and Margaret Knight. To read the decision, click here.

Appellate Division Reduces Sentence for OAD Client

On January 7, 2016, the Appellate Division reduced the sentence of OAD client, Alexander Villegas, from 2 2/3 to 8 years to 1 1/3 to 4 years. Mr. Villegas, a former U.S. Marine, who had no prior contact with the criminal justice system, was convicted of three counts of criminal contempt for violating an order of protection. Mr. Villegas is represented by Tomoeh Murakami Tse. To read the decision, click here.

Former OAD Staff Attorney Jessica Yager Named Executive Director of NYU Furman Center

On January 6, 2016, the NYU Furman Center announced the appointment of former OAD staff attorney Jessica Yager as its new Executive Director. Jessie has led the NYU Furman Center's policy work since 2012, first serving as Policy Director and more recently as Deputy Director. After leaving OAD, and before joining the Furman Center, Jessie was the founding Director of the Foreclosure Prevention Project at Queens Legal Services, where she supervised a team of lawyers and paralegals working on foreclosure defense and predatory lending cases.  OAD congratulates Jessie and NYU on this well-deserved appointment. To read more about the announcement, click here.

Court of Appeals Reverses Burglary Conviction and Life Sentence Based on Violation of the Advocate Witness Rule

On December 16, 2015, the Court of Appeals reversed the burglary conviction and 23 years to life sentence of OAD client, Luis Ortiz. The Court agreed with our claim that the trial court erred in not declaring a mistrial when the prosecution sought to introduce statements made by Mr. Ortiz's attorney at arraignment in order to impeach Mr. Ortiz's trial testimony. Counsel argued that the statements did not accurately reflect what Mr. Ortiz had told her, and she sought to be relieved or a mistrial, as she was being placed in the untenable position of being a wtiness against her client. The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Mr. Ortiz. Mr. Ortiz was represented in the Court of Appeals by former OAD staff attorney Anant Kumar and Joseph Nursey. To read the decision, click here.