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People v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of New York

October 10, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
v.
Eddie THOMPSON, Jr., Appellant.

Page 556

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 557

[975 N.Y.S.2d 381]Jack H. Weiner, Chatham, for appellant.

D. Holley Carnright, District Attorney, Kingston (Joan Gudesblatt Lamb of counsel), for respondent.

Page 558

OPINION

SMITH, J.

[997 N.E.2d 1233] We hold that a failure to exercise a peremptory challenge against a juror who was a longtime friend of the prosecuting attorney did not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel.

Page 559

Defendant was charged with murder for shooting his girlfriend. The District Attorney of Ulster County tried the case personally. During voir dire, a prospective juror, whom we will call William Peters, volunteered that he had been " a friend" of the District Attorney " for forty plus years." In response to the court's question, Peters said that the relationship would not in any way affect his " ability to be a fair and impartial juror." Later, Peters disclosed that he was on a first-name basis with the District Attorney, knew his wife and socialized with him " [o]ccasionally." In response to a question from defense counsel, he also said of the District Attorney: " I've known him to be wrong before."

Defense counsel challenged Peters for cause. The trial court denied the challenge, and the defense lawyer, though he had peremptory challenges available, chose not to use one on this panelist. Peters was selected for, and sat on, the jury, which acquitted defendant of second degree murder but convicted him of the lesser included offense of manslaughter. The Appellate Division affirmed ( People v. Thompson, 92 A.D.3d 1139, 939 N.Y.S.2d 162 [3d Dept.2012] ), and a Judge of this Court granted leave to appeal (19 N.Y.3d 977, 950 N.Y.S.2d 360, 973 N.E.2d 770 [2012] ). We now affirm.

While defendant raises many arguments on appeal, we think that the only one requiring discussion is that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to use a peremptory challenge to remove Peters from the jury. Defendant criticizes some of defense counsel's other decisions, but we find those criticisms to be ill-founded. Counsel's overall performance at trial was [975 N.Y.S.2d 382] competent. Indeed, considering the evidence in the case— the victim had two bullet wounds, and defendant's claim that he shot her accidentally was contradicted both by eyewitness testimony and by forensic evidence— a verdict of manslaughter, rather than murder, seems something of an achievement.

Thus, defendant can prevail on his ineffective assistance claim only by showing that this is one of those very rare cases in which a single error by otherwise competent counsel was so serious that it deprived defendant of his constitutional right ( see People v. Turner, 5 N.Y.3d 476, 478, 806 N.Y.S.2d 154, 840 N.E.2d 123 [2005] ). We held in Turner that this had occurred where a lawyer overlooked " a defense as clear-cut and completely dispositive as a statute of limitations" ( id. at 481, ...


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