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People v. Stokes

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

March 1, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Respondent,
v.
JOSEPH M. STOKES, Appellant.

          Calendar Date: January 17, 2018

          Rounds & Rounds Attorneys at Law, LLP, Kingston (Bryan E. Rounds of counsel), for appellant.

          Jason Kovacs, Special Prosecutor, Kingston, for respondent.

          Before: Egan Jr., J.P., Devine, Mulvey, Aarons and Rumsey, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Egan Jr., J.P.

         Appeal from a judgment of the County Court of Ulster County (Williams, J.), rendered May 25, 2012, upon a verdict convicting defendant of the crimes of burglary in the first degree (three counts) and assault in the second degree.

         In May 2011, defendant received a telephone call from his son indicating that he had gotten into a fight at a house party and needed a ride home. Defendant and his friend, Ralph Layton, then drove over and picked up defendant's son a few blocks away from the residence where the fight had taken place. Rather than drive his son home, defendant, along with Layton and defendant's son, returned to the location where the fight occurred, kicked open the front door of the residence and stormed upstairs to confront the son's teenage assailant (hereinafter the victim) in his bedroom. After defendant's son identified the victim as the person with whom he had fought, defendant, a competitive bodybuilder, proceeded to strike the victim in the forehead with a heavy, 12-to-18-inch long Maglite flashlight.

         In October 2011, defendant was charged in a four-count indictment with three counts of burglary in the first degree and one count of assault in the second degree [1]. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted as charged. Defendant was thereafter sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 12 years, to be followed by five years of postrelease supervision. Defendant now appeals.

         Defendant failed to preserve his challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence adduced with regard to assault in the second degree (count 2) and two counts of burglary in the first degree (counts 3 and 4) because he only made a general motion for a trial order of dismissal (see CPL 290.10 [1]; 470.15 [2] [a]) - he did not specifically challenge whether defendant inflicted the subject injury by means of a dangerous instrument (see Penal Law § 10.00 [13]; People v Gragnano, 63 A.D.3d 1437, 1439-1440 [2009], lv denied 13 N.Y.3d 939');">13 N.Y.3d 939 [2010]) or whether the victim sustained a serious physical injury (see Penal Law § 120.05 [2]; People v Heyliger, 126 A.D.3d 1117, 1118 [2015], lv denied 25 N.Y.3d 1165');">25 N.Y.3d 1165 [2015]). Nor did defendant preserve for appellate review his challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence with regard to count 4 and his claim that the People failed to establish that defendant knew that Layton possessed or intended to use a knife (see generally People v Lancaster, 143 A.D.3d 1046, 1047 [2016], lv denied 28 N.Y.3d 1147');">28 N.Y.3d 1147 [2017]).

         Defendant similarly failed to preserve for review his contention that County Court erred when it failed to properly instruct the jury on the charge of justification for the three burglary counts (counts 1, 3 and 4). Defendant's counsel only requested a justification charge with respect to count 2, charging defendant with assault in the second degree. Nor did defendant otherwise interpose any objection to the proposed jury charge during either the charge conference or at any time after the court had delivered its instructions to the jury (see People v Soriano, 121 A.D.3d 1419, 1423 [2014]; People v Brunson, 68 A.D.3d 1551, 1553 [2009], lv denied 15 N.Y.3d 748');">15 N.Y.3d 748 [2010]).

         We find unpersuasive defendant's contention that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel based upon his counsel's failure to object to County Court's justification charge or to request a justification charge with regard to the three burglary counts. Even assuming, without deciding, that County Court erred by providing the jury with a justification charge for both ordinary force and deadly force with respect to count 2 (see People v Ramirez, 118 A.D.3d 1108, 1112 [2014]), any such error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt and the fact that there was no significant probability that the jury would have acquitted defendant but for such an error (see People v Diaz, 71 A.D.3d 1158, 1158 [2010], lv denied 15 N.Y.3d 804');">15 N.Y.3d 804 [2010]; People v Griffith, 254 A.D.2d 753, 754 [1998]). Moreover, even if defendant had requested a justification charge with respect to the three burglary counts, there was no reasonable view of the evidence that would support a justification charge or permit the jury to conclude that defendant's conduct was justified under the circumstances (see People v Cox, 92 N.Y.2d 1002, 1005 [1998]; People v Taylor, 150 A.D.3d 768, 769 [2017], lv denied 29 N.Y.3d 1134');">29 N.Y.3d 1134 [2017]; People v Andrews, 78 A.D.3d 1229, 1231 [2010], lv denied 16 N.Y.3d 827');">16 N.Y.3d 827 [2011]). Defense counsel's assistance, therefore, cannot be said to be ineffective inasmuch as he had no obligation to make a motion or render an objection "that ha[d] little or no chance of success" (People v Caban, 5 N.Y.3d 143, 152 [2005] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see People v Smith, 157 A.D.3d 978, 981 [2018]). Having reviewed the record of the underlying proceedings, we find that defendant otherwise received meaningful representation (see People v Stultz, 2 N.Y.3d 277, 283 [2004]; People v Criss, 151 A.D.3d 1275, 1280-1281 [2017], lv denied 30 N.Y.3d 979');">30 N.Y.3d 979 [2017]). Defendant's remaining contentions, to the extent not specifically addressed, have been reviewed and found to be without merit.

          Devine, Mulvey, Aarons and Rumsey, JJ., concur.

         ORDERED that the ...


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