Court of Appeals January Session: Arguments of Interest for January 12, 2017

The Court of Appeals’ January Session concludes on Thursday, January 12, 2017, with three criminal cases on the argument docket (the Court of Appeals’ case summaries can be found here). The Court will address the following issues: (1) whether a police officer may be convicted of official misconduct for malfeasance where he performs an authorized police act but for an illegal purpose and whether alleged co-conspirators’ hearsay statements were property admitted at trial; (2) whether a New York City police officer was properly sentenced to three consecutive terms of 25 years to life, a minimum of 75 years in prison, for three forcible sexual acts on a victim during a single encounter where he held the victim at gunpoint during the crime; and (3) whether a criminal defendant should be allowed to change his plea from guilty to not guilty for hindering prosecution, where the criminal whose prosecution was allegedly hindered is acquitted of all charged after the defendant’s plea.

No. 13     People v William Flanagan

In Flanagan, the Nassau County Deputy Police Commissioner was convicted of three misdemeanor charges — two counts of official misconduct, one alleging malfeasance and the other nonfeasance, and sixth-degree conspiracy — for joining with other officers to prevent the arrest of a high school student whose father was a large benefactor of the police department.  The student allegedly stole over $10,000 in electronics from the school, and the school specifically requested that the student be arrested and charged.  According to the prosecution, Flanagan’s alleged malfeasance was assisting in the return of the stolen electronics for the illegitimate purpose of inducing the school to drop the charges.

When the press learned of the alleged conspiracy two years after the alleged theft, the student was then arrested, and Flanagan was charged and convicted thereafter.  The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the conviction.  On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Flanagan argues that his assistance in returning the stolen goods was not official malfeasance because the school had requested that the electronics be returned, and New York law does not recognize a crime for an officially authorized act for an illegitimate purpose.  Flanagan further argues that the decision not to arrest the student was a discretionary decision that cannot constitute nonfeasance.  The prosecution counters that Flanagan’s failure to arrest the student where there was probable cause and the school desired to press charges was akin to corruption, and thus constituted official nonfeasance.

Finally, Flanagan objects to the admission of hearsay statements from the other police officers that were made before the alleged conspiracy began and after it ended, arguing that they were not co-conspirators at the time and, thus, the statements did not fall within an exception to the hearsay rule.  The People argue that once Flanagan joined the conspiracy, he adopted the statements of the other officers as his own.  Thus, the People contend that the statements were properly admitted.

The Appellate Division, Second Department’s decision can be found here.

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