By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In Brooklyn, the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, ruled that prosecutors engaged in misconduct sufficient to grant a convicted murder defendant a new trial.
Brooklyn resident Antoine "Live" Singleton and Naim Muhammad of Queens were convicted in 2009 of the murder of two Queens men and the attempted murder of two others. Singleton and Muhammad were tried together, despite a petition by Singleton’s attorney to sever the trials.
When trials are jointly prosecuted, a 1987 United States Supreme Court decision outlines what can and cannot be alluded to about either co-defendant by the other during trial. For example, the Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to confront any witness against him. If one defendant gives a confession implicating his co-defendant, such a confession cannot be admitted into evidence. The rationale is that the defendants are on trial together as one unit and are therefore unable to confront the other on the witness stand as they would if trials were separate.
During the trial, Queens prosecutor Patrick O'Connor alluded that Muhammad indirectly conveyed that Singelton was involved in the commission of the crimes. The trial court judge ordered any mention of Singleton as the accomplice named by Muhammad was to be redacted from the trial record. Despite this measure by the trial court, O’Connor, during his summation, told to jury that the redacted name was indeed Singleton.
“Despite [the trial judge’s] admonishment, in summation, the prosecutor again implied that the co-defendant had implicated the defendant," the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, said in its unsigned opinion.
O’Connor’s actions were "an unjustifiable circumvention" of case law and precedent as well as an example of "deliberate defiance” of the trial judge’s orders.
The Appellate Division justice used this opinion as a lesson and warning to other attorneys, noting “[w]e recount these examples of the prosecutor's misconduct 'in the hope that our disfavor will be noted and that those charged with the duty of participating as advocates in criminal trials will approach their responsibility in an appropriate manner,'" citing case precedent.
Steven Bernhard of Appellate Advocates represented Singleton, who is serving a 50 years-to-life sentence.
The Queens DA’s office noted that it takes its “responsibility to justice very seriously” and that Singleton’s case will be “thoroughly reviewed.”
Justices William Mastro, Peter Skelos, Ruth Balkin and Sheri Roman sat on the Appellate Division panel and joined the opinion of the court.