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People v. Smith

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

January 4, 2018

ANTHONY M. SMITH, Also Known as SMURF, Appellant.

          Calendar Date: November 14, 2017

          Robert A. Regan, Glens Falls, for appellant, and appellant pro se.

          Chad W. Brown, District Attorney, Johnstown (Christopher M. Stanyon of counsel), for respondent.

          Before: Garry, P.J., Lynch, Clark, Aarons and Pritzker, JJ.


          AARONS, J.

         Appeal from a judgment of the County Court of Fulton County (Giardino, J.), rendered August 21, 2014, upon a verdict convicting defendant of the crimes of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree.

         In November 2013, members of the City of Gloversville Police Department conducted two controlled buys in which a confidential informant (hereinafter CI) purchased crack cocaine from defendant. Defendant was thereafter charged in a multicount indictment in connection with these two controlled buys. Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress identification evidence on the basis that the identification procedure was unduly suggestive. After a Wade hearing, County Court denied the suppression motion. Following a jury trial, defendant was acquitted of the charges related to the first controlled buy but convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree - charges that related solely to the second controlled buy. Defendant's subsequent motion under CPL 330.30 to set aside the verdict was denied. County Court sentenced defendant, as a second felony offender, to an aggregate prison term of 15 years, to be followed by three years of postrelease supervision. Defendant appeals. We affirm.

         Defendant first argues that County Court erred in determining that a Rodriguez hearing was unnecessary. Inasmuch as the record reveals that the pretrial identification procedures were not unduly suggestive (see generally People v Staton, 28 N.Y.3d 1160, 1161 [2017]), a Rodriguez hearing was unnecessary to determine whether the CI's identification of defendant was merely confirmatory. As to the photo array, County Court found that the photographs consisted of six African-American males of the same age, all with very short hair or shaved heads and with average skin tones. Given that our review of the photo array confirms these findings, we find no merit in defendant's claim that the identification was unduly suggestive (see People v Chipp, 75 N.Y.2d 327, 336 [1990], cert denied 498 U.S. 833');">498 U.S. 833 [1990]; People v Stevens, 87 A.D.3d 754, 755 [2011], lvs denied 18 N.Y.3d 861');">18 N.Y.3d 861 [2011]). We also reject defendant's contention that, because of lighting, his white shirt depicted in his photograph was very bright and stood out and, therefore, created a substantial likelihood of being singled out. Even though the shading and background of the photographs varied, "the differences were not of such quality as would taint the array" (People v Ruiz, 148 A.D.3d 1212, 1214 [2017] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted], lv denied 30 N.Y.3d 983');">30 N.Y.3d 983 [2017]; see People v Mould, 143 A.D.3d 1186, 1188 [2016], lv denied 28 N.Y.3d 1187');">28 N.Y.3d 1187 [2017]). Contrary to defendant's argument, the mere fact that the detective who prepared the photo array and the CI who identified defendant shared a last name does not mean the pretrial identification procedures employed were unduly suggestive [1].

         We are unpersuaded by defendant's argument that County Court erred in allowing the People to refer to him by his nickname, Smurf. Defendant's nickname was not inherently prejudicial and several witnesses at trial testified that they knew defendant exclusively under that nickname. Based on the foregoing and given that defendant's nickname was probative of his identity, County Court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the People to use defendant's nickname (see People v Hernandez, 89 A.D.3d 1123, 1125 [2011], lvs denied 20 N.Y.3d 1099');">20 N.Y.3d 1099 [2013]; People v Dye, 26 A.D.3d 764, 765 [2004], lv denied 6 N.Y.3d 847');">6 N.Y.3d 847 [2006]; People v Candelario, 198 A.D.2d 512, 513 [1993], lvs denied 83 N.Y.2d 803, 965 [1994]).

         Regarding defendant's challenge to County Court's Molineux ruling, "evidence of uncharged crimes or prior bad acts may be admitted where they fall within the recognized Molineux exceptions - motive, intent, absence of mistake, common plan or scheme and identity - or where such proof is inextricably interwoven with the charged crimes, provides necessary background or completes a witness's narrative" (People v Womack, 143 A.D.3d 1171, 1173 [2016] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted], lv denied 28 N.Y.3d 1151');">28 N.Y.3d 1151 [2017]; see People v Pigford, 148 A.D.3d 1299, 1301 [2017], lv denied 29 N.Y.3d 1085');">29 N.Y.3d 1085 [2017]) and the probative value of such evidence outweighs any undue prejudice to the defendant (see People v Wells, 141 A.D.3d 1013, 1019 [2016], lvs denied 28 N.Y.3d 1183, 1189 [2017]). With respect to the evidence that a CI previously gave defendant $200 to purchase crack cocaine from him, defense counsel opened the door to such evidence by continuously referring to this $200 sum in his opening statement and commenting that the exchange would "become important later" (see People v DeCarr, 130 A.D.3d 1365, 1366-1367 [2015], lv denied 26 N.Y.3d 1008 [2015]; see generally People v Rojas, 97 N.Y.2d 32, 39 [2001]) [2]. With respect to the evidence of the traffic citation issued to defendant on the day after the controlled buys, such evidence was probative of defendant's identity. In this regard, the description of the vehicle by the police officer who executed the traffic stop matched the description provided by other witnesses as to the vehicle used by defendant during the controlled buys. Furthermore, after weighing the probative and prejudicial value of this evidence, County Court minimized any prejudice by precluding the People from eliciting the nature of the traffic violation and the fact that defendant pleaded guilty to it (see People v Watson, 150 A.D.3d 1384, 1386 [2017], lv denied 29 N.Y.3d 1135');">29 N.Y.3d 1135 [2017]; People v Lownes, 40 A.D.3d 1269, 1270 [2007], lv denied 9 N.Y.3d 878');">9 N.Y.3d 878 [2007]) and by giving a limiting instruction to the jury (see People v Davis, 144 A.D.3d 1188, 1190 [2016], lvs denied 28 N.Y.3d 1144, 1150 [2017]; People v Nealon, 36 A.D.3d 1076, 1078 [2007], lv denied 8 N.Y.3d 988');">8 N.Y.3d 988 [2007]).

         Defendant also contends that the People failed to provide a race-neutral reason in response to his Batson challenge related to the People's use of a peremptory challenge on juror No. 197, the sole African-American prospective juror. Once the moving party establishes a prima facie showing of discrimination, the nonmovant must articulate a race-neutral reason for excluding the prospective juror (see People v Smocum, 99 N.Y.2d 418, 422 [2003]). "As to the second prong of the analysis, a neutral explanation in this context is an explanation based on something other than the race of the juror and the issue is the facial validity of the prosecutor's explanation" (People v Knowles, 79 A.D.3d 16, 20 [2010] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted], lv denied 16 N.Y.3d 896');">16 N.Y.3d 896 [2011]).

         During voir dire, the prosecutor explained that she led an investigation into a facility in which the husband of juror No. 197 was the executive director and that such investigation led to the demotion and transfer of the husband to a different facility. The prosecutor thus argued that juror No. 197's impartiality might be affected due to this investigation. County Court accepted this reason, noting, "It's logical." Inasmuch as "[t]he prosecutor's explanations... need not be persuasive or plausible but only facially permissible" (People v Callicut, 101 A.D.3d 1256, 1261 [2012] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted], lvs denied 20 N.Y.3d 1096, 1097 [2013]), we conclude that the People satisfied their step two burden (see People v Ardrey, 92 A.D.3d 967, 970 [2012], lvs denied 19 N.Y.3d 861, 865 [2012]; People v Ebron, 90 A.D.3d 1243, 1244 [2011], lvs denied 19 N.Y.3d 863, 866 [2012]; People v Lee, 80 A.D.3d 877, 879 [2011], lvs denied 16 N.Y.3d 832, 833, 834 [2011]; People v Coleman, 4 A.D.3d 677, 679 [2004], lvs denied 2 N.Y.3d 797');">2 N.Y.3d 797 [2004], 3 N.Y.3d 672');">3 N.Y.3d 672 [2004]). Defendant's argument that County Court erred in failing to proceed to step three of the Batson analysis is unpreserved (see People v Acevedo, 141 A.D.3d 843, 847 [2016]). In any event, by denying defendant's Batson challenge, the court thereby implicitly determined that the prosecutor's race-neutral explanations for exercising a peremptory challenge were not pretextual (see People v Dandridge, 26 A.D.3d 779, 780 [2006] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citation omitted]; People v Beverly, 6 A.D.3d 874, 876 [2004], lv denied 3 N.Y.3d 637');">3 N.Y.3d 637 [2004]).

         As to defendant's claim that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, it was incumbent upon defendant to show that "his attorney failed to provide meaningful representation and the absence of strategic or other legitimate explanations for counsel's allegedly deficient conduct" (People v Bullock, 145 A.D.3d 1104, 1106 [2016] [internal quotation marks, ellipsis, brackets and citations omitted]; see People v Ramos, 133 A.D.3d 904, 909 [2015], lvs denied 26 N.Y.3d 1143, 1149 [2016]; People v Wheeler, 124 A.D.3d 1136, 1138-1139 [2015], lv denied 25 N.Y.3d 993');">25 N.Y.3d 993 [2015]). "There can be no denial of effective assistance of trial counsel arising from counsel's failure to make a motion or argument that has little or no chance of success" (People v Criss, 151 A.D.3d 1275, 1280 [2017] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted], lv denied 30 N.Y.3d 979');">30 N.Y.3d 979 [2017]; see People v Thorpe, 141 A.D.3d 927, 935 [2016], lv denied 28 N.Y.3d 1031');">28 N.Y.3d 1031 [2016]).

         Contrary to defendant's assertion, his counsel's failure to request a missing witness charge did not amount to ineffective assistance given that "defendant has not shown that the [witness] was in the People's control or that [the witness] would have provided material, noncumulative testimony" (People v Kindred, 100 A.D.3d 1038, 1041 [2012], lv denied21 N.Y.3d 913');">21 N.Y.3d 913 [2013]). We also reject defendant's contention that his counsel was ineffective by failing to move for a mistrial after two witnesses gave misleading testimony inasmuch as corrective measures were taken to remedy any inaccuracies (see generally People v Diviesti, 101 A.D.3d 1163, 1164-1165 [2012], lv denied20 N.Y.3d 1097');">20 N.Y.3d 1097 [2013]). Nor are we persuaded by defendant's argument that his counsel was deficient for failing to advance an argument of pretext in response to the People's race-neutral reason for excluding juror No. 197 and effectively allowing County Court to compress steps two and three of the Batson framework (see generally People v Ali, 89 A.D.3d 1412, 1414 [2011], lv denied18 N.Y.3d 881');">18 N.Y.3d 881 [2012]). Viewing the record as a whole and taking into account that defendant ...

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