People v. Valles

Decision Date08 May 1984
Parties, 464 N.E.2d 418 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Appellant, v. Robert VALLES, Respondent.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


Defendant was arrested and charged with having shot and killed a man. Exercising his right to testify before the Grand Jury, defendant asserted that the shooting occurred as the result of his efforts to protect his stepdaughter from an attack. The charge of murder in the second degree, * and upon defendant's specific request, the complete defense of justification, were submitted to the Grand Jury for its consideration. Defendant was indicted for murder in the second degree.

The evidence before the Grand Jury was clearly sufficient to establish a prima facie case. The indictment has been challenged on the ground that the Grand Jury proceedings were rendered defective by the prosecutor's failure to instruct that body concerning the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance. Although that defense may have been suggested by the evidence, the courts below erred in dismissing the murder count of the indictment on this ground.

The District Attorney is required to instruct the Grand Jury on the law with respect to the matters before it (CPL 190.25, subd. 6). Although the Grand Jury need not be charged with the same degree of precision as the petit jury, the District Attorney must give guidance adequate for the Grand Jury to carry out its function. We have held that, in the usual case, it is "sufficient if the District Attorney provides the Grand Jury with enough information to enable it intelligently to decide whether a crime has been committed and to determine whether there exists legally sufficient evidence to establish the material elements of the crime" (People v. Calbud, Inc., 49 N.Y.2d 389, 394-395, 426 N.Y.S.2d 238, 402 N.E.2d 1140). In this connection, we have recognized that a failure to furnish adequate or complete instructions may, in a given case, render the Grand Jury proceedings defective, mandating dismissal of the indictment (Id., at p. 395, 426 N.Y.S.2d 238, 402 N.E.2d 1140; CPL 210.20, subd. 1, par. 210.35, subd. 5). This does not mean, however, that the Grand Jury must be charged with every potential defense suggested by the evidence.

The extent of the District Attorney's obligation to instruct the Grand Jury concerning defenses must be defined with reference to the role of that body. "The primary function of the Grand Jury in our system is to investigate crimes and determine whether sufficient evidence exists to accuse a citizen of a crime and subject him or her to criminal prosecution" (People v. Calbud, Inc., 49 N.Y.2d 389, 394, 426 N.Y.S.2d 238, 402 N.E.2d 1140, supra ). Viewed from this perspective, the question of whether a particular defense need be charged depends upon its potential for eliminating a needless or unfounded prosecution.

The appropriate distinction for this purpose is between exculpatory and mitigating defenses. An exculpatory defense is one that would, if believed, result in a finding of no criminal liability. The Grand Jury's function being to protect citizens from having to defend against unfounded accusations, such complete defenses would ordinarily rest peculiarly within that body's proper domain. Thus, in the present case, had the Grand Jury believed that defendant's acts were justified, no indictment would have been returned and an unwarranted prosecution would have been avoided. It is the possibility that criminal proceedings need not be undertaken at all which underscores the importance of the Grand Jury's consideration of such defenses. This is so notwithstanding that, once a case goes to trial, the petit jury may disagree on the applicability of the same defense and find the defendant not guilty.

When a defense is urged in mitigation, on the other hand, it is not done in an effort to avoid criminal liability entirely; rather, it is an attempt to reduce the gravity of the offense committed. If believed, such a defense would not, by itself, result in a verdict of not guilty, and thus the criminal prosecution would not have been unwarranted. Because consideration of such defenses by the Grand Jury would not prevent unfounded criminal accusation, but would, at best, merely reduce the degree of the crime charged, their presentation to the Grand Jury will not ordinarily be mandated. The District Attorney is free to seek an indictment for the highest crime the evidence will support. It is not necessary that, having presented a prima facie case and those complete defenses suggested by the evidence, the District Attorney go further and present defenses in mitigation, which ordinarily will involve matters for resolution by the petit jury upon a full record.

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division, 92 A.D.2d 526, 459 N.Y.S.2d 442, insofar as appealed from, should be reversed and the count of the indictment charging defendant with murder in the second degree reinstated.

KAYE, Judge (concurring).

While concurring in the result reached, I write to express disagreement with the statement added by the majority that a District Attorney is free to seek indictment for the highest crime the evidence will support, and need never present defenses in mitigation, however conclusive or pervasive the evidence in support of such defenses might be.

By holding that a defense must be submitted to the Grand Jury only if its acceptance would result in exoneration, the majority ascribes an unduly narrow function to the Grand Jury. To be sure, the Grand Jury performs a vital function in determining whether any prosecution should be initiated. But it is relied upon as well to decide which crime should be charged, and the degree of crime charged may have important ancillary consequences. For example, the degree of crime charged impacts plea bargaining (CPL 220.10); whether a defendant is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor can determine other rights (see, e.g., CPL 30.30); and the effect of the crime charged upon a petit jury or sentencing Judge can hardly be ignored. (People v. Felix, 58 N.Y.2d 156, 164, 460 N.Y.S.2d 1, 446 N.E.2d 757.) Since reliance is placed not only on the fact of an indictment but also on which offense is charged, the prosecutor should have some obligation to instruct that body on mitigating defenses raised by the evidence, certainly where the evidence supporting such defenses is clear and pervasive. (Cf. People v. Rosenbaum, 107 Misc.2d 501, 435 N.Y.S.2d 502; People v. Galuppo, 98 Misc.2d 395, 413 N.Y.S.2d 880; People v. Karassik, 90 Misc.2d 839, 396 N.Y.S.2d 765.) Such an obligation is particularly necessary in light of the trial court's inability to dismiss or amend an indictment where the evidence is legally insufficient to establish the offense charged but sufficient to support any lesser included offense (CPL 210.30; Bellacosa, Practice Commentary, McKinney's Cons.Laws of N.Y., Book 11A, CPL 200.70, p. 523).

The majority's sweeping statement is not supported by People v. Calbud, Inc., 49 N.Y.2d 389, 426 N.Y.S.2d 238, 402 N.E.2d 1140, the only case cited in the opinion. Calbud did not even address the subject of mitigating defenses. In that case, the prosecutor sought an indictment for second degree obscenity and charged the Grand Jury by reciting the statutory definition of obscenity. Noting the lesser degree of precision necessary when charging a Grand Jury, the court held that the indictment need not be dismissed simply because the prosecutor failed to instruct the Grand Jury to judge the material using State-wide contemporary community standards. In acknowledging that one of the primary functions of the Grand Jury is to "determine whether sufficient evidence exists to accuse a citizen of a crime and subject him or her to criminal prosecution", the court did not--as the majority does today--ignore the importance of the Grand Jury's decision as to which crime to charge. Indeed, in citing CPL 190.65 (subd. 1), the court recognized that the Grand Jury may indict for an offense when the evidence "provides reasonable cause to believe that such person committed such offense " (emphasis supplied).

A charge on extreme emotional disturbance was not, in any event, warranted in the present case. Though both courts below found error in the prosecutor's Grand Jury presentation (the Appellate Division terming the issue "close"), whether the evidence was sufficient to warrant instruction as to the extreme emotional disturbance defense is a question reviewable in this court. As noted, Grand Jury charges are scrutinized with less vigor than petit jury charges (People v. Calbud, Inc., 49 N.Y.2d 389, 426 N.Y.S.2d 238, 402 N.E.2d 1140, supra ), and the evidence in my view did not so clearly support the extreme emotional disturbance defense as to require its submission. Moreover, it is significant that defense counsel, who was actively involved in presenting evidence and requesting detailed charges, did not specifically seek the extreme emotional disturbance defense. The prosecutor refused counsel's request to charge manslaughter in the first and second degrees because more than two shots were fired. The prosecutor apparently understood the defense to be requesting a first degree manslaughter charge on the basis of subdivision 1 of section 125.20 of the Penal Law (causing death with intent to cause serious physical injury), since the number of shots fired would be more relevant to that theory than to the extreme emotional disturbance defense. While defense counsel in this situation cannot be held to the same requirement of precision in making requests as exists in the trial context, the courts should not ignore the absence of an actual request for...

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