Case Detail
CitationPeople v. Casanova, 988 N.Y.S.2d 713 (N.Y. App. Div. 2014)
CrimeDrug crimes
StateNY
Pros. First NameUKN
Pros. Last NameUKN
FederalNo
Trial Year2012
BodyAppeals court
OpinionThe New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, held that the prosecutor's comments that impermissibly shifted the burden of proof and vouched for the credibility of his witnesses denied the defendant a fair trial. "Counsel is afforded wide latitude in advocating for his or her case during summation, but '[t]here are certain well-defined limits' that may not be exceeded [citations omitted]. Here, the prosecutor strayed beyond those parameters by, among other things, repeatedly making remarks that impermissibly shifted the burden of proof from the People to defendant [citations omitted]. He described defense counsel's summation as 'throwing mud,' which he characterized as something done by people who 'don't have a reasonable excuse as to crimes that they've committed'—thus not only denigrating the theory of defense, but suggesting that it was defendant's affirmative burden to present such an excuse. He then averred that nothing in the trial record established that defendant had not committed the alleged acts. At this point, Supreme Court intervened sua sponte, admonishing the prosecutor that he was improperly shifting the burden of proof and that defendant had no obligation to present evidence proving his innocence. Undeterred, the prosecutor went on to suggest that defendant had been unable to establish that the male CI had a motive to lie, thereby improperly suggesting to the jury that defendant had an obligation to do so [citation omitted]. He stated that, in order to find defendant not guilty, jurors would have to believe that police officers were engaged in a scheme whereby they staged audio recordings of the controlled buys and planted evidence on defendant to frame him, referencing a comedy skit in which police purportedly got away with mistreating people 'by sprinkling drugs on them.' Defense counsel objected that these comments were improper because, although he had argued that the police work was 'sloppy,' he had made no claims of police conspiracies, dishonesty or other intentional misconduct, and we agree [citation omitted]. Further, as the court warned the prosecutor, the remarks improperly shifted the burden of proof and—by advising the jury that it would have to believe that police misconduct had occurred in order to acquit defendant—improperly suggested that more than a reasonable doubt was required. Nevertheless, the prosecutor's very next statement again mischaracterized the burden of proof, advising the jury that to have a reasonable doubt, it would 'have to doubt the reasonableness of everything that [it] heard during the course of this trial'. . . .Supreme Court sustained defense counsel's objections or admonished the prosecutor sua sponte regarding several comments; many other improper remarks passed without objection or admonishment, and few curative instructions were given. Given the persistence and magnitude of misconduct, we cannot say that any resulting prejudice was alleviated [citations omitted]. The cumulative effect of the multiple improprieties was to cause such substantial prejudice to defendant that he was denied a fair trial. Accordingly, we reverse and remit for a new trial . . ."
Determination Year2014
Misconduct TypeTR: Impugning
TR: Inadmissible
TR: Inflammatory
TR: Mischaracterizing
TR: Misstating
TR: Vouching
C/S EffectReversal of conviction
Pros. Misc. ReportedUKN
SanctionsUKN
Sanction TypeUKN
Web linkN/A