Hemphill v. New York

Hemphill v. New York

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that will provide greater protections for criminal defendants proceeding to trial in New York. In Hemphill v. New York, the Court reaffirmed and expounded upon their settled doctrine surrounding the right to confront witnesses at a criminal trial. In this case, defendant Hemphill was charged with murder. At trial, Hemphill’s defense was that his friend Morris shot the victim. Defendant’s counsel noted that officers had recovered  9 mm ammunition matching the murder weapon from Morris’s nightstand hours after the victim died. The state asserted this was misleading because officers had also found other .357 revolver ammunition on Morris’s nightstand—the ammunition that fit the gun Morris ultimately pled guilty to unlawfully possessing.

What the state didn’t mention was that Morris was indicted for this same murder before Hemphill was, and the State ultimately dropped Morris’s murder charge in exchange for a plea to unlawfully possess the .357 revolver. Morris was unavailable to testify at Hemphill’s trial. Over Hemphill’s objection, the State sought to introduce Morris’s plea allocution transcript to suggest he possessed only the .357 revolver.  To support their introduction of the plea, The State relied on the New York “Reid” rule that says a criminal defendant can “open the door” to evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible under the 6th Amendment if it was “reasonably necessary to correct a misleading impression” made by the defense’s “evidence or argument.”

The Supreme Court rejected this application of the Reid rule, reasoning that its use would require the court to determine what is or is not a “misleading impression.” Thus, the Supreme Court held, the Reid rule does not defeat the defendant’s fundamental 6th Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The admission of an out-of-court statement of an unavailable witness such as Morris that was not previously subject to cross-examination violates the defendant’s 6th Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him at trial, regardless of whether his defense may implicate the Reid rule. This ruling will grant greater protection to criminal defendants standing trial in New York.

To discuss the federal criminal defense update, or criminal law more generally, reach out to New Jersey and New York criminal defense lawyer Lorraine Gauli-Rufo at 973-239-4300 or at LGR LAW for a consultation today. For more information about the firm, please visit LGR LAW’s website.

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