Overturned Court Cases

Two court cases were successfully appealed and overturned on Oct. 4.

An appeal from a judgment rendered June 13, 2011, for The People of the State of New York v. Barak Cornell declaring the defendant guilty of second-degree arson, second-degree criminal mischief and three counts of first-degree reckless endangerment was reversed and a new trial has been granted.

The court declared there were a couple of procedural errors during the trial which led to the overturned conviction. The first was a jury note which was properly read on the record in the presence of the defendant, defense counsel and the prosecutor, and it then obtained a clear stipulation from both attorneys to the jury’s request for information. However, the court instructed the jury off the record, in the jury room and outside of the presence of the defendant.

The second complaint by Cornell was the court allowed witness testimony concerning his prior bad habits up to 10 years before the arson. According to People v. Mateo, “It is fundamental that evidence concerning a defendant’s uncharged crimes or prior misconduct is not admissible if it cannot logically be connected to some specific material issue in the case, and tends only to demonstrate that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime charged.”

An order for Elizabeth Costanzo v. County of Chautauqua from Sept. 14, 2012, which denied the personal injury complaint against Chautauqua County, was appealed and unanimously affirmed without costs.

Costanzo sought damages for injuries she sustained when her vehicle was struck by a vehicle operated by Paul Rosage at the intersection of Route 5, a state road, and Van Buren Road, a county road. Rosage’s vehicle hit the driver’s side of Costanzo’s vehicle when she, after stopping at a stop sign on Van Buren Road, drove her vehicle into the path of Rosage’s, who was traveling eastbound on Route 5. It was undisputed Rosage had no traffic control devices and was granted the right-of-way.

According to Costanzo, Chautauqua County was negligent in “causing and creating an unsafe intersection.”

The court concluded the affidavit of a transportation engineer who offered his opinion as an accident reconstruction expert was speculative as the expert failed to submit the data upon which he had based his opinions, and thus the affidavit had no probative value. The court also rejected the county’s contention it cannot be held liable as a matter of law for the accident because it does not control the intersection of a county road and a state road. Lastly, the county’s contention that it cannot be held liable because it did not have prior written notice of the allegedly defective intersection is without merit given Costanzo alleges the county created the allegedly unsafe condition.