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People v. Graham

Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Department

March 24, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT,
v.
CLIFFORD GRAHAM, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

          FRANK H. HISCOCK LEGAL AID SOCIETY, SYRACUSE (JOHN J. GILSENAN OF COUNSEL), FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

          WILLIAM J. FITZPATRICK, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SYRACUSE (ROMANA A. LAVALAS OF COUNSEL), FOR RESPONDENT.

          PRESENT: CENTRA, J.P., PERADOTTO, CARNI, AND LINDLEY, JJ.

         Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, Onondaga County (John J. Brunetti, A.J.), rendered September 18, 2015. The judgment convicted defendant, upon a jury verdict, of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child.

         It is hereby ORDERED that the judgment so appealed from is unanimously reversed on the law and as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice and the indictment is dismissed without prejudice to the People to re-present any appropriate charges under counts one and eight of the indictment to another grand jury.

         Memorandum: Defendant appeals from a judgment convicting him upon a jury verdict of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (Penal Law § 265.03 [3]) and endangering the welfare of a child (§ 260.10 [1]). Viewing the evidence in light of the elements of the crimes as charged to the jury (see People v Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 349), we reject defendant's contention that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence (see generally People v Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d 490, 495). Because defendant did not renew his motion for a trial order of dismissal after presenting evidence, he failed to preserve for our review his contention that the verdict is not supported by legally sufficient evidence (see People v Hines, 97 N.Y.2d 56, 61, rearg denied 97 N.Y.2d 678). In any event, that contention is without merit (see generally Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d at 495).

         We agree with defendant, however, that reversal is required because Supreme Court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on the defense of temporary innocent possession of the handgun. In order for a defendant to be entitled to such an instruction, "there must be proof in the record showing a legal excuse for having the weapon in [one's] possession as well as facts tending to establish that, once possession [was] obtained, the weapon [was not] used in a dangerous manner" (People v Williams, 50 N.Y.2d 1043, 1045 ; see People v Banks, 76 N.Y.2d 799, 801). Here, there were such facts. Defendant testified that he briefly struggled with a man who threatened him with a gun in front of his wife's residence and, in the struggle, the gun fell to the ground. According to defendant's testimony, after the assailant fled the scene, defendant picked up the gun from the street and immediately handed it to his wife, who then brought it into the home and hid it in the bedroom. The police later discovered the gun, hidden in a women's purse in a bedroom closet, during a search of the home after being dispatched to that location to investigate a domestic violence report. That testimony was not "utterly at odds with [any] claim of innocent possession" (People v Robinson, 63 A.D.3d 1634, 1635, lv denied 13 N.Y.3d 799');">13 N.Y.3d 799 [internal quotation marks omitted]), and we thus conclude that there were sufficient facts for the jury to conclude that defendant's possession of the gun was temporary and lawful (see People v Hayes, 55 A.D.2d 812, 812; People v Singleteary, 54 A.D.2d 1088, 1088; see also People v Holes, 118 A.D.3d 1466, 1467-1468).

         Defendant further contends that reversal is also required on the ground that the integrity of the grand jury proceeding was impaired because the prosecutor failed to instruct the grand jury concerning the defense of temporary innocent possession of a weapon. Although defendant failed to preserve that contention for our review inasmuch as he did not move to dismiss the indictment on that specific ground (see CPL 470.05 [2]; People v Beyor, 272 A.D.2d 929, 930, lv denied95 N.Y.2d 832), we nevertheless exercise our power to review it as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice (see CPL 470.15 [6] [a]). We agree with defendant that the integrity of the grand jury proceeding was impaired, and we thus dismiss the two counts of the indictment of which defendant was convicted, without prejudice to the People to re-present any appropriate charges under those counts to another grand jury (see People v Connolly, 63 A.D.3d 1703, 1704-1705). The prosecutor is required to instruct the grand jury on the law with respect to matters before it (see CPL 190.25 [6]). If the prosecutor fails to instruct the grand jury on a defense that would eliminate a needless or unfounded prosecution, the proceeding is defective, mandating dismissal of the indictment (see CPL 210.35 [5]; ...


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