Divided Court Upholds Conviction Despite Anonymous Testimony
Mr. Ricketts was arrested for selling drugs to an undercover officer as part of a “buy and bust” operation and was convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance.
At trial, the court granted the undercover detective request’s to testify anonymously based solely on his claim, without elaboration, that he feared for his safety. Later, the detective revealed that he no longer worked undercover, but was retired.
On appeal, counsel argued that Mr. Ricketts’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him was violated by the detective’s anonymous testimony. Three judges of the Appellate Division rejected this argument, affirming Mr. Ricketts’s conviction, because trial counsel did not object to the testimony.
In a lengthy dissent, however, Judge Hall voted to reverse the conviction, reasoning that the People failed to meet their burden of showing that the detective needed to testify anonymously, and that the trial court failed to balance Mr. Ricketts’s confrontation rights with the purported need for anonymous testimony.
Judge Hall also would have reversed, in the interest of justice, because the prosecutor’s arguments that Mr. Ricketts was running a drug business, based in part on the fact that he had $258 when he was arrested, were unduly prejudicial given that Mr. Ricketts was charged with only two minor drug sales.
Denise Corsi briefed and argued the case.