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People v. Leonard

New York Court of Appeals

March 28, 2017

The People & c., Respondent,
v.
Richard M. Leonard, Appellant. (Appeal No. 1) The People & c., Respondent,
v.
Richard M. Leonard, Appellant. (Appeal No. 2)

         Case No. 19 and Case No. 20:

          Brian Shiffrin, for appellant.

          Robert J. Shoemaker, for respondent.

          ABDUS-SALAAM, J.

         Defendant was convicted of sexual abuse in the first degree (Penal Law § 130.65 [2]) and unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree (Penal Law § 260.20) for serving alcohol to an underage relative (hereinafter the victim) and then sexually abusing her while she was intoxicated. Defendant appealed, and moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10. On defendant's direct appeal, we hold that the trial court erred in permitting the People to introduce testimony from the victim about a prior incident in which defendant allegedly sexually assaulted her in a similar manner, because the evidence was not permissible for the People's proffered Molineux purposes and, to the extent it was probative for a limited purpose, the prejudicial nature of that evidence far outweighed any probative value. Therefore, we reverse the Appellate Division order affirming the judgment and remit for a new trial. However, we affirm the Appellate Division's denial of defendant's Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10 motion. We therefore affirm that Appellate Division order.

         I.

         In October 2007, defendant was assaulted by the victim's boyfriend. Following his arrest, the boyfriend was interviewed by a police officer, to whom he explained that he assaulted defendant because he suspected that defendant had acted in a sexually inappropriate manner with the victim. During questioning by the police officer, the victim stated that her boyfriend attacked defendant because he thought that she had been raped by defendant earlier that day, "but it was not true." The officer created an Incident Report in which he stated that the boyfriend said he had assaulted defendant because while he was at defendant's home earlier that day, he "believed that [defendant] was doing something inappropriate to [the victim], " but he "didn't see anything specific." In the boyfriend's Voluntary Statement, he explained that while he and the victim were at defendant's home, he was in the basement playing video games, while the victim, who was intoxicated, lay passed out on an upstairs couch. The boyfriend said that he saw defendant standing over the victim, and suspected that he was doing something inappropriate to her. After the boyfriend and the victim left defendant's house, the boyfriend stated that the victim informed him that defendant had raped her on a prior occasion.

         Defendant was indicted for sexual abuse in the first degree and unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree for giving the victim alcohol. Prior to trial the prosecutor filed a " Molineux Proffer" seeking to elicit testimony regarding an alleged 2005 sexual abuse incident involving the same victim. According to the victim, she fell asleep on a couch in her home where defendant had been living after drinking alcohol provided to her by defendant. When she woke up, her pants were down and defendant's fingers were inside her vagina. The prosecutor argued that this evidence was relevant to show intent, absence of mistake, background, and common scheme or plan. Over defendant's objection, the court ruled that the People could elicit testimony regarding the 2005 incident in their direct case. The court did not specify for which Molineux purpose the evidence was admissible or if it weighed the probative value of the evidence against any potential prejudice to defendant.

         During trial, the boyfriend testified that in October 2007, he and the victim went to defendant's home where they all drank alcoholic beverages. Some time later, the victim passed out in the bathroom and he and defendant carried her upstairs and placed her on a couch. The boyfriend and defendant then went downstairs to play video games in the basement. At some point, defendant went upstairs while the boyfriend remained in the basement. The boyfriend testified that, from where he sat, he could see defendant kneeling between the coffee table and couch on which the victim was passed out. He questioned defendant, who responded that he was checking on the victim because he thought she was going to vomit. A few minutes later, he once again observed defendant kneeling down in front of the victim, touching her, after which, he ran upstairs where he saw defendant touching the victim's vagina. He shook the victim awake and they left.

         The victim also testified at trial. Although she could not remember the assault, she recalled her boyfriend waking her up and noticed that her knees were open and her pants and underwear were below her knees. Pursuant to the court's Molineux ruling, the victim testified that in 2005, she was drinking alcohol provided by defendant and, when she later woke up on a couch, defendant was touching her vagina. She admitted that, prior to the present case, she never told anyone of this alleged sexual assault from 2005.

         Defendant testified on his own behalf, denying that he supplied the victim and her boyfriend with alcohol. He explained that after the victim passed out in the bathroom, he and her boyfriend put her on the couch, and the victim started vomiting in the area between the sofa and coffee table. Defendant testified that he got a bowl in case she got sick again, which she did. The victim and her boyfriend left at about 4:00 a.m. Defendant denied inappropriately touching the victim.

         The jury convicted defendant of sexual abuse in the first degree and unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree, and he was sentenced to a term of three years and six months in prison, with seven years of postrelease supervision.

         Defendant moved pro se to set aside his conviction pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law § 440.10, raising ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct claims. County Court denied the motion without a hearing, holding that defendant's claims lacked merit.

         The Appellate Division considered both appeals together, and affirmed both orders (129 A.D.3d 1592');">129 A.D.3d 1592 [4th Dept 2015]). With respect to the direct appeal, the court rejected defendant's contention that the trial court erred in admitting the Molineux evidence, concluding that the evidence of uncharged crimes was admissible to establish intent and motive, and was also admissible to provide necessary background information on the nature of the ...


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