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The People of the State of New York v. Tarak Kauff

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK APPELLATE TERM: 9th and 10th JUDICIAL DISTRICTS


December 27, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
v.
TARAK KAUFF,
APPELLANT. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
BEVERLY RICE,
APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
RICHARD MARINI, APPELLANT. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
ELAINE BROWER,
APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
ALLISON BETH LEVY,
APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,
RESPONDENT,
MATTHIS CHIROUX,
APPELLANT.

Appeals from six judgments of the Justice Court of the Town of Highlands, Orange County (Eric A. Stewart, J.), rendered June 1, 2010.

People v Kauff (Tarak)

Decided on December 27, 2011

Appellate Term, Second Department

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

PRESENT: NICOLAI, P.J., LaCAVA and IANNACCI, JJ

The judgments convicted defendants, after a joint non-jury trial, of disorderly conduct in violation of Penal Law § 240.20 (5) and (6).

ORDERED that, on the court's own motion, the appeals are consolidated for purposes of disposition; and it is further,

ORDERED that the judgments are modified, on the facts, by vacating the convictions of disorderly conduct in violation of Penal Law § 240.20 (5) and by dismissing those charges; as so modified, the judgments of conviction are affirmed.

These six criminal actions arose out of a protest that occurred on December 1, 2009 at the entrance gate to West Point Military Academy. The following facts were undisputed at the non-jury trial. On the night of the protest, the police department had blocked off three traffic lanes for the demonstration and kept the two remaining lanes open for vehicular traffic. Shortly after the protesters congregated at the gate, defendants entered one of the lanes dedicated to vehicular traffic and sat down in the middle of the roadway. The Chief of Police ordered defendants to leave the lane, advising that if they did not comply, they would be subject to arrest. Defendants refused to move, and were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct by obstructing vehicular traffic, in violation of Penal Law § 240.20 (5), and by refusing to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse, in violation of Penal Law § 240.20 (6).

Following the trial, each defendant was convicted of the charged offenses.

Defendants' contentions that there was insufficient evidence at trial to show: (1) that defendants had obstructed vehicular traffic and (2) that the police order that they disperse from the roadway was lawful are not preserved, as no objections were made on these grounds at trial (see CPL 470.05 [2]; People v Gray, 86 NY2d 10 [1995]).

Upon the exercise of our factual review power, we find that the verdicts convicting defendants of violating Penal Law § 240.20 (5) were against the weight of the evidence (see CPL 470.15 [5]; People v Danielson, 9 NY3d 342, 348-349 [2007]; People v Bleakley, 69 NY2d 490, 495 [1987]). There is no indication in the record that defendants actually blocked vehicular traffic, a required element of Penal Law § 240.20 (5) (see People v Salazar, 13 Misc 3d 120 [App Term, 9th & 10th Jud Dists 2006], citing Provost v City of Newburgh, 262 F3d 146, 157 [2001]). No evidence was offered that there were vehicles present at the time of the alleged offense. In fact, not only did defendants testify that no vehicles had been present, but the People's only witness, the Chief of Police, also testified that he had not observed any vehicles attempting to use the roadway while defendants had been there.

With respect to the convictions of violating Penal Law § 240.20 (6), we find that the circumstances of defendants' arrest provided a sufficient basis for the trier of fact to infer that defendants, by their refusal to disperse from the active roadway, had intended to cause a public inconvenience by blocking the roadway (see People v Giannizzero, 209 AD2d 635, 636 [1994], citing People v Smith, 79 NY2d 309, 315 [1992]). We also find that the convictions of violating Penal Law § 240.20 (6) were not against the weight of the evidence. Defendants remained in the roadway, which was dedicated to vehicular traffic, after being directed by the Chief of Police to leave, and it is beyond dispute that a police officer's demand for a pedestrian to vacate an active roadway is a lawful order.

Accordingly, the judgments are modified by vacating the convictions of disorderly conduct in violation of Penal Law § 240.20 (5) and by dismissing those charges.

Nicolai, P.J., LaCava and Iannacci, JJ., concur.

Decision Date: December 27, 2011

20111227

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