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Accomplice Testimony and The Corroboration Rule Under CPL 60.22: The Trial Court May Consider “Harmonizing” Type Evidence.


Accomplice Testimony and The Corroboration Rule Under CPL 60.22: The Trial Court May Consider "Harmonizing" Evidence.
New York Court of Appeals 2010 NY Slip Op 05283

People v. Reome Decided June 17, 2010

Issue : Whether there was sufficient corroboration evidence at a rape trial under Criminal Procedure Law § 60.22.

Facts : Defendant Nathan Reome was convicted of three counts of rape as an accomplice and one count of conspiracy. At trial the main witnesses were the victim and one of the accomplices. Both witnesses described a rape by four men, but the victim did not identify any of the four. The accomplice witness testified that he participated in the rape with the defendant and two others. Three of the accomplices were connected to the rape by DNA evidence but Nathan Reome was not.

CPL §60.22(1) states: a defendant may not be convicted of ay offense upon the testimony of an accomplice unsupported by corroborative evidence tending to connect the defendant with the commission of such offense .

Holding : The Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient corroborating evidence and affirmed the conviction.

The corroborative evidence required by this statute need not be powerful in itself. The corroborative evidence need not show the commission of the crime; it need not show that defendant was connected with the commission of the crime. It is enough if it tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime in such a way as may reasonably satisfy the jury that the accomplice is telling the truth. People v. Dixon , 231 N.Y. 111 (1921).

The role of the additional evidence is only to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime, not to prove that he committed it. The accomplice testimony, if credited by the jury, may serve the latter purpose. People v. Hudson , 51 N.Y.2d 233 (1980). Much less evidence and of a distinctly inferior quality is sufficient to meet the slim corroborative linkage to otherwise independently probative evidence from accomplices.

The text of CPL 60.22 requiring corroborative evidence tending to connect the defendant with the commission of such offense does not require that all corroboration stemming from the accomplice’s testimony be ignored. There can be corroborative evidence that, read with the accomplice’s testimony, makes it more likely that the defendant committed the offense and thus tends to connect him to it.

The Court of Appeals makes clear that trial courts may consider “harmonizing” evidence as well as independent evidence and “harmonizing” evidence may provide a substantial basis for crediting accomplice testimony.

In this case the Court of Appeals found that the victim’s detailed account and the DNA identifications of the three other defendants was strong harmonizing evidence that the accomplice testimony was true. The Court also found that the cell phone records which showed no communication between Reome and the accomplice during the time that the rape was alleged to have occurred was harmonizing evidence because it supported the testimony of the accomplice.