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People v. Reyes

New York Court of Appeals

February 15, 2018

The People & c., Appellant,
v.
Casimiro Reyes, Respondent.

          Thomas M. Ross, for appellant.

          Allen Fallek, for respondent.

          MEMORANDUM

         The order of the Appellate Division, insofar as appealed from, should be affirmed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the People (see People v Contes, 60 N.Y.2d 620, 621 [1983]), we conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction of conspiracy in the second degree (Penal Law § 105.15) because "there is [no] valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences from which a rational jury could have found the element[] of [agreement] proved beyond a reasonable doubt" (People v Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 349 [2007] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see generally People v Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d 490, 495 [1987]).

         "The elements of [a] conspiracy offense" generally may be characterized as: "first, the specific intent that a crime be performed; and second, an agreement with another person to engage in or cause that crime to be performed" (William C. Donnino, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 38, Penal Law § 105.00). Indeed, "it is fundamental that [to] be convicted of conspiracy" (People v Berkowitz, 50 N.Y.2d 333, 343 [1980]) "the defendant [must] enter[] into a criminal agreement with at least one other person" (People v Treuber, 64 N.Y.2d 817, 818 [1985]). " [O]nce an illicit agreement is shown, the overt act of any conspirator may be attributed to other conspirators to establish the offense of conspiracy'" (Berkowitz, 50 N.Y.2d at 341, quoting People v McGee, 49 N.Y.2d 48, 57 [1979]).

         Here, at the core of the People's case is evidence of defendant's presence at various gang meetings at which the crime intended was discussed by gang members other than defendant. Under the circumstances of this case, to conclude that defendant's presence at such gatherings alone was sufficient to establish agreement to join a plot would be to equate his passive act of "being present" with the affirmative act of "agreeing" to engage in a criminal conspiracy discussed at those assemblies. The law does not contain a presumption of agreement based on sheer presence at a meeting at which a conspiracy is discussed (see Penal Law § 105.00 et seq.), and we share the view of the federal courts that mere "[k]nowledge of the existence and goals of a conspiracy does not itself make one a coconspirator" (United States v Ceballos, 340 F.3d 115');">340 F.3d 115, 124 [2d Cir 2003] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see generally United States v Shabani, 513 U.S. 10, 16 [1994] [providing that "the criminal agreement itself is the actus reus" of conspiracy]).

         In so concluding, we are careful not to fix boundaries with respect to the circumstances that may give rise to an agreement. Conspiracy is criminalized to "protect society from the dangers of concerted criminal activity" (United States v Feola, 420 U.S. 671, 693 [1975]), the very nature of which does not lend itself to transparency. Whereas an agreement in a business context may be manifested with precision, namely, through a contract, a correspondence, or conspicuous dialogue, an agreement in the criminal realm typically would result from more clandestine and ambiguous activity.

         Consequently, we decline to define - and therefore to limit - the circumstances giving rise to an agreement. On this record, however, we agree with the Appellate Division that there is no valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences from which a rational jury could have found the element of agreement beyond a reasonable doubt.

          GARCIA, J. (dissenting)

         Defendant, a member of the Almighty Latin King Nation, was charged with conspiracy in the second degree in connection with an arson carried out by other gang members. His trial lasted three months. Two gang members testified pursuant to cooperation agreements. The intended victim of the arson attack - a former member of the gang - also testified. The People introduced evidence of defendant's knowledge of the conspiracy and his agreement to cause or carry out its criminal purpose. Defendant was convicted of conspiracy. I disagree with the majority's conclusion that this evidence, considered under the appropriate standard of review, was legally insufficient to support the verdict.

         I.

         "A verdict is legally sufficient when, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the People, there is a valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences from which a rational jury could have found the elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt" (People v Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 349 [2007] [internal citations and quotations omitted]). In a sufficiency review, a court must " marshal competent facts most favorable to the People and determine whether, as a matter of law, a jury could logically conclude that the People sustained its burden of proof" (id. [emphasis added]). In conspiracy cases, "deference to the jury's findings is especially important... because a conspiracy by its very nature is a secretive operation, and it is a rare case where all aspects of a conspiracy can be laid bare in court with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel" (United States v Applins, 637 F.3d 59, 76 [2d Cir 2011] [internal citations and quotations omitted]).

         In New York, "[a] person is guilty of conspiracy in the second degree when, with intent that conduct constituting a class A felony be performed, he agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct" (Penal Law § 105.15). The core of the conspiracy is the element of agreement, which will be found where there is a "concrete and unambiguous expression of each actor's intent to violate the law" (People v Caban, 5 N.Y.3d 143, 149 [2005] [internal citations and quotations omitted]).

         II.

         On March 1, 2010, members of the Borough Park Homicide tribe (BPH) of the Latin Kings firebombed the home of Juan Kuang. Defendant did not participate in the March 1 attack but was instead charged with conspiring to commit this act of arson. It is undisputed that the defendant was a member of BPH. The only issue is whether the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the People, was sufficient ...


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