NY Court of Appeals Set to Eye Alleged Withholding of Evidence in Murder Trial

By Michael Joseph on May 14, 2019

The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court will hear arguments on whether a Brooklyn man convicted more than a decade ago of murdering a New Jersey college student, should be granted a new trial based on arguments that prosecutors withheld evidence. Our New York City malicious prosecution and police misconduct lawyers, know how unfair the criminal system can be to those accused of a crime and when prosecutors withhold evidence, that causes an injustice in an already flawed system.

Attorneys for convicted man, have argued and continued to argue in a brief to the state Court of Appeals, that a key witness who testified against him at trial only did so to avoid incarceration for violating the terms of a drug treatment program. Prosecutors have denied that any arrangement was made with that witness, and claim they had nothing to do with him coming forward before the trial. The witness testified in court that the defendant admitted to being involved in the murder while they were both housed at Rikers Island, a jail in New York City. The convicted Brooklyn man has denied that claim.

The Brooklyn man's attorney argued in his brief to the high court that the informant has a history of lying and only offered to testify after violating the conditions of a drug treatment program, which could have landed him back in prison. That wasn’t disclosed to the defense and, consequently, the jury reached a guilty verdict, but had this information been disclosed, it could have changed the outcome of the trial.   The Appellate Attorneys further argued that the witness only testified to avoid spending up to seven years in prison on burglary charges, which he had pleaded guilty to several months earlier. Avitto had struck a deal with prosecutors at the time to avoid prison by completing a drug treatment program.

By depriving the defense of the information necessary to show  the witness' motive to lie, the prosecution prevented the defense from making an effective showing that the witness' steadfast denial that his legal status had anything to do with testifying was false, that his denial of a motive to lie was false, and that therefore his overall testimony should be discredited.

The case was further complicated in 2015 when the witness recanted his testimony . Two other witnesses that testified against the accused at trial have also recanted their testimony. Less than two months after entering that program, which was scheduled to last up to two years,  the witnes left the residential facility and used cocaine and then reached out to detectives to offer his testimony against the convicted man. A few days later, the witness met with prosecutors and detectives to discuss what he could offer. He also claimed former Assistant District Attorney who was prosecuting the case, then went with him to a court appearance since a warrant had been issued for his arrest at that point. The witness was allowed to stay in the drug treatment program rather than be sent to prison over the violation. He testified against a few months later.

Prosecutors from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office argued  that there was no agreement with the witness that he would receive a benefit for his testimony, and the prosecutor was not required to disclose information that a defense attorney might have been able to use to suggest, falsely, that such an agreement existed. The witness, they argued, even testified at trial that he wasn’t getting anything in return for his testimony. If an agreement had been made, prosecutors argued, they would have disclosed it.

The Appellate Division, Second Department  overturned his conviction before prosecutors appealed to the high court. The panel argued that, even if a deal hadn’t been made between the witness and prosecutors, the circumstances of his testimony still should have been disclosed at trial. Giving proper deference to the credibility findings of the hearing court, the Court held that the nondisclosure of this evidence by the prosecution, even if it was as a result of negligence and not by design, created a reasonable possibility that the prosecution’s errors affected the jury’s verdict.

The Court of Appeals will be tasked with deciding whether  a new trial should be granted, which would be disadvantageous to prosecutors, or side with the trial court and uphold his conviction. A decision will likely be handed down by the court in June. Our police misconduct attorneys handled the lead malicious case, Manganiello v. Agostini, where a detective was held liable for malicious prosecution for going forward with a case based upon the testimony of an informant that he knew was unreliable and implicating someone just to avoid jail. This type of proseuction puts the innocent person in an impossible situation, where someone you have never met is coming out of the woodwork with what seems like damning evidence against you, all of which is fabricated.  It is imperative that New York City criminal defense attorneys have access to infomration showing that the so called informant is lying. Our New York malicious prosecution attorneys will continue to fight for those who have been wrongfully convicted based upon the word of liars, who are just seeking deals and put innocent people in jail, as a means to save themselve.s

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