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Issues In NY Criminal Law--Vol. 3, #3©

ISSUE: Sufficiency and weight of the evidence as issues on appeal 

AMONG the issues that the defense may raise on appeal is the quality of the evidence adduced at trial.  Two related but distinct issues may be raised:

  1. that the trial evidence was legally insufficient; and
  2. that the verdict of conviction was against the weight of the evidence.

Although the two standards of intermediate appellate review legal sufficiency and weight of evidence are related, each require a discrete analysis." People v Bleakley, 69 NY2d 490, 515 NYS2d 761 (1981). 

of evidence is expressly provided as a ground for appeal in the Criminal Procedure Law.  "The kinds of determinations of reversal or modification deemed to be upon the law include, but are not limited to, the following: . . . (b) That evidence adduced at a trial resulting in a judgment was not legally sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt of an offense of which he was convicted..."  CPL 470.15(4)(b). With sufficiency of the evidence, the intermediate appellate court "must determine whether there is any valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences which could lead a rational person to the conclusion reached by the jury on the basis of the evidence at trial and as a matter of law satisfy the proof and burden requirements for every element of the crime charged." Bleakley at 495 (citation omitted).  The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the people. 

Preservation of error below is required to raise legal sufficiency on appeal. A perfunctory trial order of dismissal is not enough; the specific grounds of insufficiency must be stated. People v Gray, 86 NY2d 10, 629 NYS2d 173 (1995); People v Ferguson, 240 AD2d 510, 658 NYS2d 134 (2d Dept 1997).

THE Criminal Procedure Law also provides for an appeal directed to the weight of evidence.  "The kinds of determinations of reversal or modification deemed to be on the facts include, but are not limited to, a determination that a verdict of conviction resulting in a judgment was, in whole or in part, against the weight of the evidence."  CPL 470.15(5).  With weight of the evidence, "the appellate court's dispositive analysis is not limited to that legal test.  Even if all the elements and necessary findings are supported by some credible evidence, the court must examine the evidence further.  If based on all the credible evidence a different finding would not have been unreasonable, then the appellate court must, like the trier of fact below, `weigh the relative probative force of conflicting testimony and relative strength of conflicting inferences that may be drawn from the testimony.'" People v Bleakley, supra; see People v Robinson, 139 AD2d 677, 527 NYS2d 307 (2d Dept 1988); Handling a Criminal Case in New York § 23:75.   

IF the appellate court reverses on either weight or sufficiency grounds, the charge is dismissed, and the defendant may not be retried on it again.  CPL 470.20(2),(5). 

IN a CPL 330.30 motion, the issue of sufficiency of the evidence may be validly raised after trial, but weight of the evidence may not. See People v Carter, 63 NY2d 530, 483 NYS2d 654 (1984).

: "Almost all legal sentences, whether they appear in judges' opinions, written statutes, or ordinary bills of sale, have a way of reading as though as though they had been translated from the German by someone with a rather meager knowledge of English." -- Fred Rodell, Woe Unto You, Lawyers


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