Appellate Division Grants New Trial Given Improper Limit on Cross-Examination
November 23, 2016
Mr. Jahmal Enoe was convicted of second-degree weapon possession after being stopped by police while a passenger in a livery cab and observed by officers attempting to conceal a firearm.
Before trial, the court precluded the defense from cross-examining one of the arresting officers about a federal civil rights lawsuit that had been filed against him by a plaintiff who alleged that the officer had falsely arrested him on a fictitious weapon possession charge. The court concluded that questions regarding this lawsuit were not probative of the officer’s credibility .
In a decision dated November 23, 2016, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed and remanded for a new trial. Applying the Court of Appeal’s decision in People v. Smith, 27 N.Y.3d 652 (2016), the Appellate Division ruled that the trial court had erred by precluding cross-examination of the officer about the federal lawsuit, since the allegations of prior bad acts in that lawsuit provided a good faith basis to question the officer, and the similarity between those allegations and the facts in Mr. Enoe’s case made the allegations relevant to the officer’s credibility. The Appellate Division further ruled that this error was not harmless because the officer’s testimony was integral to the People’s proof that Mr. Enoe had possessed a firearm.
Elizabeth Budnitz and Alexis Ascher briefed the case, and Alexis argued it before the Appellate Division.