Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for April 26, 2018

The Court of Appeals wraps up the first week of the April-May Session with only two criminal cases on the argument docket. Each involves claims of actual innocence and when criminal defendants can bring those claims as a basis to vacate their convictions.  Particularly, the Court will hear arguments on the following issues: (1) whether a freestanding claim of actual innocence is cognizable basis to vacate a conviction under CPL 440.10(1)(h), and whether the waives that claim by pleading guilty to the charges, and (2) whether a criminal defendant’s claim that the People committed a Brady violation and that newly discovered evidence warranted vacatur of his conviction, and whether the Court’s rejection of those claims impliedly also rejected his claim of actual innocence.

No. 62    People v Natascha Tiger

When a severely disabled child was admitted to the hospital with what appeared to be scald burns, the defendant, a licensed practical nurse who had given the child a bath earlier that day, was charged with endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person, and pled guilty. Two years later, however, she moved to vacate her conviction based on a claim that she was actually innocent. Medical evidence, she said, showed that the child had an adverse reaction to medication, and wasn’t actually burned.

After County Court denied her application without a hearing, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed. The Court held that, consistent with its prior precedent, the defendant could raise a claim of actual innocence as a basis to vacate her conviction.  the Court noted, however, that the Court of Appeals has not yet passed on that question. The Appellate Division also rejected the People’s argument that the defendant had waived her claim of actual innocence by pleading guilty to the charges, holding instead that it would offend due process for an actually innocent person to be convicted and barred from raising that claim on a post-conviction motion.

The Court of Appeals will now hear arguments and decide these open, and important, questions.

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

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