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CPL 450.90(2) Appealing To The Court Of Appeals From Appellate Division: Mixed Questions of Law And Fact Don’t Fly


 

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People v. Pohill

2014 NY Slip Op 07294

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: October 28, 2014

Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer 

The New York State Constitution Limits Power And Scope Of Court Of Appeal’s Authority.

Issue: Whether an appeal regarding the suppression of identification evidence (i.e a mixed question of law and fact) can be entertained by the New York Court of Appeals.

Summary: An Appeal to the Court of Appeals from the Appellate Division was dismissed. This Appeal deals with a suppression of identification of evidence. (i.e a mixed question of law and fact.). The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s denial of the omnibus motion to suppress identification evidence, holding that the motion should have been granted.

The People sought leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. There, it was held that the appeal should be dismissed for failing to meet the requirements of CPL 450.90(2) because the circumstances of the case presents a mixed question of law and fact. The Court of Appeals held that the Appellate Division’s reversal was not ‘on the law alone or upon the law and such facts which, but for the determination of law would not have led to reversal” CPL 450.90(2), and dismissed the appeal.

See Also: The Doctrine Of Manifest Necessity: Before Declaring A Mistrial, A Juge Must Consider All Circumstances

Holding: No, the Court of Appeals may not decide cases where there is a mixed question of law and fact. The Court determined that the case was not appealable because it a mixed question of law and fact.

Facts: Defendant was convicted of attempted robbery and the trial court denied the motion to suppress identification evidence. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the motion should have been granted. The People sought leave to the Court of Appeals where it was determined that the case should be dismissed for failing to meet the requirements of CPL 450.90(2) because the circumstances of case presented a mixed question of law and fact.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that CPL 450.90(2) provides that appeals to the Court of Appeals from a judgment, sentence or order may be taken if:

(a) the Court of Appeals determines that an intermediate Appellate Court’s determination of reversal or modification was on the law alone or upon the law and such facts which, but for the determination of law, would not have led to reversal or modification ; or

(b)  the appeal is based upon a contention that corrective action, as that term is defined in section 470.10, taken or directed by the intermediate appellate court was illegal.

The Court’s power of review is, in general, limited to questions of law as distinguished from questions of fact or discretion, and it is empowered to review questions of fact only in certain types of cases, NY Const., Art. VI, §3(a); CPLR 5501(b). The Court of Appeals has often observed that its review mandate does not extend to the altercation of findings of fact made by the jury which have been affirmed by the Appellate Division.

In criminal capital cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, and in proceedings for the review of determinations of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Court of Appeals is the appellate tribunal of first and generally last resort, and in that role it possesses plenary power to review all questions, whether law or fact.

The State Constitution empowers the Court of Appeals to review questions of fact only in a nonjury civil case or modified on appeal of judgment and has expressly or impliedly found new facts and a final judgment was entered, NY Const., Art. VI, §3(a). The reason for this exception to the general rule has been stated to be that every party is entitled to one appellate review on the facts.

The basic principle is that a question of fact is presented if there is a conflict either in the evidence or in the inferences, which can reasonably be drawn. The simplest illustration of that principle is the case in which opposing witnesses give conflicting testimony.

The Court’s power to review questions of fact, generally; constitutional provisions

Article VI, section 3(a) of the New York State Constitution, which governs the power of the Court of Appeals to review questions of fact reads as follows

(a) The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals shall be limited to the review of questions of law except where the judgment is of death, or where the Appellate Division, on reversing or modifying a final or interlocutory judgment in an action or a final or interlocutory order in a special proceeding, finds new facts and a final judgment or a final order pursuant thereto is entered; but the right to appeal shall not depend upon the amount involved.

CPLR 5501(b), which supplements the foregoing constitutional provisions, reads as follows:

The Court of Appeals shall review questions of law only, except that it shall also review questions of fact where the Appellate Division, on reversing or modifying a final or interlocutory judgment, has expressly or impliedly found new facts and a final judgment pursuant thereto is entered. In conclusion, because the case contained a mixed question of law and fact the Court of Appeals dismissed pursuant to CPL 450.90(2).


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