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The Doctrine Of Collateral Estoppel Bars ReTrial In Criminal Case


PEOPLE V. O’TOOLE

The New York Court of Appeals

People v. O’Toole

 2013 NY Slip Op 08193

Decided on: December 10, 2013

Issue: Whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars the People from introducing evidence that the defendant displayed a firearm at his re-trial for second-degree robbery when the defendant was acquitted of displaying a firearm for the same incident at his previous trial where he was charged with first degree robbery. 

Holding: Yes. The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars the prosecution from introducing evidence that a gun was displayed during the robbery. The Court of Appeals held that “when an issue of evidentiary fact has been resolved in a defendant’s favor by a jury, the People may not, at a later trial, present evidence that contradicts the first jury’s finding.” When the jury acquitted the defendant of first-degree robbery and convicted him of second-degree robbery, they found that the People had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant displayed firearms. Therefore any testimony regarding the use of a firearm at the subsequent trial is collaterally barred.

Facts: Complainant Philip Horsey, the manager of a barber-shop, was approached by the defendant who told him that the defendant was entitled to “money from the shop,” and that if the defendant did not get any he would “close the shop.”

One hour later, a large man walked into Horsey’s shop and handed him a telephone. When Horsey picked up the phone, he heard the defendant’s voice telling him to “give my man the jewels.” Horsey then turned to find that the man from whom he had taken the phone was pointing a gun at him.

Horsey was then forced to follow the man out the door where he found the defendant waiting for them. After some conversation, Horsey gave the defendant a valuable gold chain. 

The defendant was subsequently charged with robbery in the first degree under Penal Law 160.15(4) which states:

“A person is guilty of robbery in the first degree when he forcibly steals property and when, in the course of the commission of the crime or of immediate flight therefrom, he or another participant in the crime”:

  1. Displays what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or other firearm.

The defendant was also charged with robbery in the second degree under Penal Law 160.10(1) which states:

“A person is guilty of robbery in the second degree when he forcibly steals property and when”:

  1. He is aided by another person actually present.

The jury acquitted the defendant of first-degree robbery and convicted him of second-degree robbery. On appeal, the appellate division reversed and ordered a new trial on the second-degree robbery charge.

At the defendant’s second trial, the defendant moved to preclude the People from introducing evidence that his alleged accomplice used a gun in the robbery. The trial court denied the motion and allowed complainant Horsey to testify that a large man pointed a gun at him. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree robbery, but the Appellate Division again reversed holding that the People were collaterally estopped by the earlier verdict from presenting evidence that the defendant displayed a gun.

Legal Analysis: The majority ruled that this case is governed by the Court’s decision in People v. Acevedo, 69 N.Y.2d 478 (1987). In that case, the defendant was tried for robbing a man named Jakiela. Both the defendant and Jakiela gave inconsistent testimony and the jury acquitted the defendant. Later, when the defendant was tried for robbing another man on that day, the Court of Appeals ruled that Jakiela could not testify about his encounter with the defendant at the second trial because the first jury had rejected Jakiela version of the events for that day.

The Court of Appeals also distinguished this case from Dowling v. United States, 493 US 342 (1991) where the Supreme Court ruled that the Due Process and the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the federal constitution do not require the application of collateral estoppel where “the prior acquittal did not determine an ultimate issue in the present case.” Acevedo did not deal with a federal or state constitutional question and neither does O’Toole. 

Stephen Preziosi is a criminal appeals lawyer in New York City’s Times Square.  His firm handles both New York Criminal Appeals and Federal Criminal Appeals throughout the nation.