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People v. Hahn

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

March 1, 2018

DANIEL K. HAHN, Appellant.

          Calendar Date: January 8, 2018

          Brian M. Quinn, Albany, for appellant.

          Karen Heggen, District Attorney, Ballston Spa (Gordon Eddy of counsel), for respondent.

          Before: Egan Jr., J.P., Lynch, Clark, Mulvey and Rumsey, JJ.


          EGAN JR., J.P.

         Appeal from a judgment of the County Court of Saratoga County (Murphy III, J.), rendered December 3, 2015, upon a verdict convicting defendant of the crime of criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree.

         In February 2015, defendant was charged by indictment with criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree in connection with the theft of a 2011 Haulmark enclosed cargo trailer - and the tools and equipment contained therein - from a construction site in the Village of Schuylerville, Saratoga County. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted as charged and he was thereafter sentenced, as a second felony offender, to a prison term of 3½ to 7 years. Defendant now appeals.

         Initially, defendant's challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence was not preserved for appellate review inasmuch as his counsel made only a general motion to dismiss at the close of the People's case-in-chief (see People v Perillo, 144 A.D.3d 1399, 1399-1400 [2016], lvs denied 29 N.Y.3d 948, 951 [2017]; People v Hardy, 57 A.D.3d 1100, 1101 [2008], lv denied 12 N.Y.3d 784');">12 N.Y.3d 784 [2009]), and County Court was not otherwise presented with nor did it expressly decide the legal issue presently raised on appeal (see People v Graham, 25 N.Y.3d 994, 996-997 [2015]; People v Hawkins, 11 N.Y.3d 484, 492 [2008]). Nevertheless, inasmuch as defendant also argues that his conviction was against the weight of the evidence, we will necessarily assess whether the elements of the crime were proven beyond a reasonable doubt (see People v Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 349 [2007]; People v Holmes, 151 A.D.3d 1181, 1182 [2017], lv denied 29 N.Y.3d 1128');">29 N.Y.3d 1128 [2017]).

         Defendant argues that the People failed to prove that he knew the subject property was stolen or that the value of the stolen property exceeded $3, 000. We disagree. To be found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree, the People must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant "knowingly possesse[d] stolen property, with intent to benefit himself [or herself] or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof, and when the value of the property exceeds [$3, 000]" (Penal Law § 165.50). To that end, a "defendant's knowledge that property is stolen may be proven circumstantially, and the unexplained or falsely explained recent exclusive possession of the fruits of a crime allows a jury to draw a permissible inference that [the] defendant knew the property was stolen" (People v Landfair, 191 A.D.2d 825, 826 [1993], lv denied 81 N.Y.2d 1015');">81 N.Y.2d 1015 [1993]; accord People v Fauntleroy, 108 A.D.3d 885, 886 [2013], lv denied 21 N.Y.3d 1073');">21 N.Y.3d 1073 [2013]; see People v Cintron, 95 N.Y.2d 329, 332 [2000]).

         Here, there was ample evidence submitted at trial establishing defendant's knowledge that the trailer and tools at issue were, in fact, stolen (see People v Holmes, 151 A.D.3d at 1182-1183; People v Fauntleroy, 108 A.D.3d at 886-887). Michael Manney, a codefendant, testified that he and another individual were with defendant driving around when defendant "spotted the trailer" and apparently concocted the plan to steal it. Manney testified that defendant backed his vehicle up to the trailer, hooked it up and drove off. Manney testified that he later observed defendant cut the locks off the trailer and remove the license plate. James Carlton, defendant's friend and the owner of the auto repair shop where the stolen trailer was later parked, testified that he spoke with defendant the following morning and averred that defendant admitted to having stolen the trailer. Carlton testified that he thereafter told defendant to remove the trailer from the premises and subsequently sent a text message to an investigator with the Washington County Sheriff's Office to report the theft.

         Even discounting the accounts of Manney and Carlton as self-serving with respect to defendant's direct involvement in the actual theft of the trailer, the People introduced additional evidence demonstrating defendant's knowledge that the trailer was stolen. The People presented testimony from two individuals - as well as corroborating cell phone records - indicating that, on the morning after the trailer was stolen, defendant was hurriedly attempting to sell the trailer and the contents thereof at a steeply discounted price. Brian Sawn, a pawn shop owner, testified that defendant called him numerous times and offered to sell him the trailer and the tools contained therein for $1, 000 [1]. Mark Mitchell, the individual who ultimately purchased the trailer from defendant, indicated that defendant drove to his house and offered to sell him the trailer for $1, 000. He also testified that, when he subsequently arrived to view the trailer, defendant indicated that he had no paperwork for it and told him that he would have to register it as a "homemade trailer." Mitchell testified that he ultimately gave defendant $1, 000 in cash for the trailer. Police investigators, meanwhile, testified that, after receiving Carlton's text message, they surveilled his place of business and observed, among other things, defendant both showing the trailer to the subject individuals and removing tools from the trailer and placing them into a nearby vehicle. Tellingly, upon defendant's subsequent arrest, he was found in possession of $1, 000 cash and various tools that had been removed from the stolen trailer.

         We are likewise satisfied that the evidence established that the value of the subject stolen property exceeded $3, 000. For our purposes, "value is defined as 'the market value of the property at the time and place of the crime, or if such cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the crime'" (People v Helms, 119 A.D.3d 1153, 1154 [2014], lv denied 24 N.Y.3d 1044');">24 N.Y.3d 1044 [2014], quoting Penal Law § 155.20 [1]; see People v Furman, 152 A.D.3d 870, 874 [2017], lv denied 30 N.Y.3d 1060');">30 N.Y.3d 1060 [2017]). "In determining the value of stolen property, the jury need only have a reasonable, rather than speculative, basis for inferring that the value exceeded $1, 000" (People v Adams, 8 A.D.3d 893, 894 [2004] [citations omitted]), and "opinion testimony by a lay witness is competent to establish the value of the property [so long as] the witness is acquainted with the value of similar property" (People v Furman, 152 A.D.3d at 874 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; accord People v Helms, 119 A.D.3d at 1155-1156).

         Here, Charles Hotaling, the owner of Nycorp Construction - the company whose trailer and tools were stolen - testified that he had 35 years of experience purchasing construction tools and equipment and did so as part of his regular job duties. Hotaling testified that he purchased the trailer in 2011 for approximately $4, 700 and opined that, at the time of the theft, it was worth approximately $2, 000. He also testified in detail as to the various tools contained in the trailer, opining that their total value was approximately $20, 000 [2]. Because a different verdict would not have been unreasonable, we must view the evidence in a neutral light, while deferring to the jury's credibility determinations, to determine if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence (see People v Grierson, 154 A.D.3d 1071, 1072 [2017]). Based on the foregoing, we find that each element of defendant's conviction for criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree was proven beyond a reasonable doubt (see People v Royster, 107 A.D.3d 1298, 1301 [2013], lv denied 22 N.Y.3d 958');">22 N.Y.3d 958 [2013]).

         We also find unpersuasive defendant's contention that he was deprived of fair trial due to certain alleged evidentiary errors committed by County Court. We perceive no error in County Court's denial of defendant's request to call the prosecutor as a trial witness with respect to certain discussions that he had with Manney, wherein Manney acknowledged that he had lied in a prior statement that he had provided to the police. County Court properly determined that any proposed testimony by the prosecutor would be collateral inasmuch as it had "no direct bearing on any issue in the case other than the credibility of a witness" (People v Kerley, 154 A.D.3d 1074, 1075 [2017] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted], lv denied ___ N.Y.3d ___ [Jan. 30, 2018]), and "[t]he general rule is that a party may not introduce extrinsic evidence on a collateral matter solely to impeach credibility" (People v Alvino, 71 N.Y.2d 233, 247 [1987]; see People v DeFreitas, 116 A.D.3d 1078, 1081 [2014], lv denied24 N.Y.3d 960');">24 N.Y.3d 960 [2014]). Nor was defendant prejudiced by the court's ruling, as defendant's cross-examination of Manney was not limited in any way and both the ...

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