Appellate Division Reverses Murder Conviction
At Mr. Ayala’s trial for second-degree murder, the sole eyewitness could not identify the shooter. This eyewitness explained that she no longer remembered the shooter’s face because too much time had passed between the shooting and the trial and she had been struggling with alcohol and depression.
Despite this witness’s lack of recollection, the trial court allowed the prosecutor to impeach her by asking questions about her prior identification of Mr. Ayala, during the grand jury presentation and from a photo array. A detective also testified that this eyewitness had picked Mr. Ayala from a photo array. During summation, the prosecutor suggested that the jury could consider the impeachment material as direct evidence that the defendant was the shooter.
The Appellate Division held that this was prejudicial error: First, a party may not impeach their own witness simply because the witness no longer remembered something. Second, the trial court erred by allowing a detective to testify that the eyewitness had chosen Mr. Ayala from a photo array. Third, the prosecutor’s statement to the jury that impeachment testimony was direct evidence of Mr. Ayala’s guilt was improper.
Finding that the cumulative effect of these errors deprived Mr. Ayala of a fair trial, the Appellate Division reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial.
Dina Zloczower briefed and argued the case.