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The Corroboration Rule: CPL § 60.50 Provides That A Defendant Can Not Be Convicted Of A Crime Based Solely Upon His Own Confession.


criminal appeals the corroboration rule and CPL §60.50

People v. Santiago

22 N.Y.3d 740

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: February 25, 2014

The Corroboration Rule and CPL § 60.50 Provide That A Defendant Can Not  Be Convicted Based Solely Upon His Own Confession

Summary: Defendant allegedly suffocated her stepdaughter and was arrested. At the police station, she confessed to the crime and was brought to Dutchess County Jail where she befriended a male inmate, Michael Bryant, and exchanged lengthy letters. At trial, the People introduced Defendant’s letters that were redacted by the court over defense’s objection. The People proceeded on theory that Defendant had covered her stepdaughter’s mouth and suffocated her. The People presented a PowerPoint presentation of the victim explaining the length of time it takes for a child of that size to die of cardiac death. Defense counsel never objected to the slides and Defendant was subsequently convicted of murder in the second-degree.

Defendant argues 1) that her guilt was insufficiently corroborated. 2) that the county court abused its discretion when it showed her letters to Bryant; and 3) that she was denied effective assistance of counsel when her attorney failed to object during the People’s summation. The Appellate Division modified the courts judgment by reducing the murder conviction to second-degree manslaughter. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and affirmed the Appellate Division.

 See Also: Double Jeopardy Clause: The Double Jeopardy Clause Prevents The imposition Of Post Release Supervision (PRS) At Re-sentencing

Issue: Whether a confession was sufficiently corroborated by independent evidence at trial to support a conviction of murder in the second degree and whether the court abused its discretion when it allowed letters into evidence that were not sufficiently redacted as well as, whether Defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel when her Attorney failed to object to a PowerPoint display during the People’s summation.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the confession followed by independent evidence at trial sufficiently corroborated a conviction of manslaughter. Criminal Procedure Law §60.50 provides: A person may not be convicted of any offense solely upon evidence of a confession or admission made by him or her without additional proof that the offense charged has been committed. The required supplementary evidence corroborating a confession may be sufficient even though it fails to exclude every reasonable hypothesis save that of guilt. The statute is satisfied by the production of some proof, of whatever weight, a crime has been committed by someone; the additional evidence of the crime together with the confession must be sufficient to establish a Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The additional evidence must be evidence that the charged crime was committed, and need not be evidence that Defendant committed the crime.

The Court of Appeal also held that the court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed certain letters into evidence because Defense counsel already redacted some portions, as well as, the People instructed the jury to look at the letters as evidence that the Defendant knew Michael Bryant and that her relationship with him was such that she would confide in them; not in regards to Defendant’s character and lifestyle.

The Court of Appeals held that Defense counselor’s failure to object to the PowerPoint slideshow during the People’s summation did not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel. Had defense counsel objected, the trial court would have had the opportunity to decide whether the challenged aspect of the PowerPoint presentation constituted a fair comment on the evidence or was instead totally irrelevant to any legitimate issue presented at trial. The Court held that the PowerPoint presentation supported an already admitted photograph for the purpose of medical evidence, and was not simply an appeal to the jury’s emotions.

Facts: Defendant allegedly suffocated her stepdaughter and was arrested. At the police station, she confessed to the crime and was brought to Dutchess County Jail where she befriended a male inmate, Michael Bryant, and exchanged lengthy letters. At trial, the People introduced Defendant’s letters that were redacted by the court over defense’s objection. The jury was instructed to read the letters as evidence that Defendant and her relationship with Michael Bryant was such that she would confide in him and are not to be viewed in relation to Defendant’s character or lifestyle. The People proceeded on the theory that Defendant had covered her stepdaughter’s mouth and the child died of asphyxia and showed a PowerPoint presentation of the victim. The PowerPoint consisted of slides of the same photo fading as time elapsed, and the final slide was blank. The pictures of the victim, as the coroner explained, demonstrated the length of time it takes for a child of that size to reach cardiac death.

Defendant argues 1) that her confession was insufficiently corroborated. 2) that the county court abused its discretion when it allowed into evidence her letters with Bryant; and 3) that she was denied ineffective assistance of counsel when her counselor failed to object  during the People’s summation. The Appellate Division modified the courts judgment by reducing the murder conviction to second-degree manslaughter citing that the verdict was against the weight of evidence. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and affirmed the Appellate Division.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals identified three of Defendant’s arguments in this case. First, Defendant argues that her confession to the police was not sufficiently corroborated by independent evidence at trial.

Criminal Procedure Law §60.50 provides: A person may not be convicted of any offense solely upon evidence of a confession or admission made by him or her without additional proof that the offense charged has been committed. The Court of Appeals has held that the required supplementary evidence, corroborating a confession, may be sufficient even though it fails to exclude every reasonable hypothesis save that of guilt. The Court held that the statute is satisfied by the production of some proof, of whatever weight, that a crime was committed by someone and the additional evidence of the crime, together with the confession must be sufficient to establish a Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The rue, long-established, is that the additional evidence must be evidence that the charged crime was committed, and need not be evidence that the crime was committed by Defendant.

The People stated that defense counsel failed to preserve the corroboration argument. Defendant states that defense counselor’s failure to renew his motion to dismiss based on insufficient corroboration of the confession amounts to ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals held that a motion to dismiss on the ground of lack of corroboration would have been properly denied. There was independent evidence that a crime had occurred corroborating Defendants confession. The jury heard testimony by Dr. Chute, a coroner for the People, showing that the child’s death by suffocation involved a human agent other than herself. Defendant’s failure to renew his motion to dismiss did not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals held that it need not to address Defendant’s corroboration challenge further.

       Defendant next argues that her letters to Bryant were prejudicial and not probative. However, defense counsel did not single out the specific passages of a sexual nature that Defendant now argues were wrongfully admitted. Defense counsel had already achieved certain redactions on the letter and did not ask for redaction of the sexual passages that Defendant now argues. Moreover, given the limiting instruction, the result of Defendant’s appeal would not have been different had counsel preserved the issue by asking for further redactions. The Court of Appeals held that this argument was also not preserved for their review.

Defendant’s last argument was that defense counsel, failed to object during the People’s summation. Defendant contends that the Prosecution’s demonstration of the slides had no purpose other than to engender a feeling of horror and was not part of any legitimate argument. She argues that Defense counsel’s failure to object was egregious and prejudicial, and it deprived her of effective assistance of counsel. During summation, counsel is to be afforded the widest latitude by way of comment, denunciation or appeal in advocating his cause, though within the limits of relevance. People v. Ashwal, 39 NY2d 105, 109 1976.

       The Court of Appeals held that, had Defense counsel objected, the trial court would have had the opportunity to decide whether the challenged aspect of the PowerPoint presentation constituted a fair comment on the evidence, or was instead totally irrelevant to any legitimate issue presented at trial. The Court of Appeals held whether the trial court would have been required by law to sustain an objection to the entirety of the PowerPoint presentation is not clear from this record.

The People contend that the presentation of the photograph displayed captions illustrating points of medical testimony and that the slides were that of an already admitted photograph that was relevant to the testimony heard by the jury. The slides showed a picture of the victim fading, as time elapsed, demonstrating that it would have taken up to six minutes for the child to die of suffocation. The Court of Appeals held that the slides did not show how the child died nor would it have aided the jury in its fact-finding.

            The Court of Appeals concluded that, had defense counsel preserved the issue by timely objection, and had the trial court ruled against Defendant and the issue reached the Court of Appeals, it would have decided whether the trial court abused its discretion and, whether the error required a reversal of the judgment of conviction. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s order to reduce murder to manslaughter in the second-degree.


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