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People v. Goldstein, Part 2

People v. Goldstein, Part 1

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals decided People v. Goldstein, 2005 N.Y. Slip Op. 09654.  There's a good discussion of this case at Indignant Indigent that may be of particular interest to Monroe County criminal defense attorneys, since Eric discusses the possible effects of this decision upon Judge Fisher's recent decision in Green v. DeMarco.

People v. Goldstein is a fairly in depth decision.  Accordingly, I plan to discuss the hearsay issue today and will discuss tomorrow that aspect of the Court's decision that dealt with an accused's constitutional right to confront witnesses testifying against him or her.

One issue considered by the Court in People v. Goldstein was whether a portion of the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist  offered by the People constituted inadmissible hearsay. 

Mr. Goldstein was accused of murdering Kendra Webdale, a woman who was a stranger to him, by pushing her into the path of an oncoming subway train in January of 1999 in New York City.   His main defense was insanity and the People offered the testimony of Dr. Angela Hegerty to rebut his defense.

She testified, predictably, that in her opinion Mr. Goldstein had a mild mental disorder that was "in the schizophrenic spectrum."  In support of her opinion, she recounted, over objection, the results of her interviews with third parties. 

On appeal, the defense asserted that Hegerty's testimony regarding the statements of her interviewees was inadmissible hearsay under New York Law since the prosecution had failed to prove that the statements were of the sort commonly relied upon by forensic psychiatrists.  The Court  concluded the statements did constitute hearsay but that that Hegerty's opinion was nevertheless admissible. 

The Court opined that Heberty's testimony that "several" members of her profession used her approach of relying upon third party interviews coupled with the admission of the defense's forensic psychiatrist that Hegerty's approach was accepted by some reputable professionals was sufficient to establish that the third party interviews were of the sort accepted by the profession as reliable, and her opinion was therefore admissible under People v. Stone, 35 N.Y.2d 69 (1974) and People v. Sugden, 35 N.Y.2d 452 (1974).

The Court also offered some important dicta and pointed out that an issue that was not decided in this case and has not yet been decided in New York is whether the inadmissible facts underlying the admissible expert opinion fall under a hearsay exception.

I was surprised to learn that that issue has not yet been addressed by New York courts.  It would appear that the Court of Appeals has given defense counsel the green light to make that argument-it could very well be a winner. 

Tune in tomorrow for part 2...

Edited to add:  Thanks to my former Evidence professor, Michael Hutter, for pointing out in the comments to this post that New York courts have addressed the issue of whether facts/statements relied upon by an expert in rendering an opinion may be disclosed to a jury.  See, Neumire, 291 A.D.2d 784 and Schwartz v. Gerson, 246 A.D.2d 589.

Edited to further add:  The last sentence of the sixth paragraph should have read "The Court concluded that the statements did constitute hearsay, but that Hagerty's opinion was nevertheless admissible on hearsay grounds.  I apologize for any confusion.  I was writing only about the first part of the decision in this post, in which the court concluded that the statement was admissible.  However, as will be seen in the next post, the Court concluded that the admission of the interviewees' statements violated the constitutional right to confront witnesses and thus were not admissible on that basis.


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Michael Hutter

The Court was wrong when it stated that the NY courts have not discussed the issue whether the facts/statements properly relied upon by an expert in rendering an opinion can be disclosed to the jury. The ADs have consistently and uniformly held that, at least in civil cases, they may not. See, Neumire, 291 ad2d 784;Schwartz v. Gerson, 246 ad2d 589. What is really an open issue is to what extent if any may the facts be disclosed and the courts' discretion on this issue. As Goldstein notes, this was decided by the amendment to FRE 703.

Nicole Black

Thanks for the information, Professor Hutter. I found it hard to believe that that NY courts had not yet addressed that issue, and almost said as much in my post, but decided to be a bit more judicious, since I hadn't actually researched the issue myself.


Isn't it generally viewed as dangerous to mount a psych defense for this very reason (opening the door to counter-testimony that includes this kind of evidence)? That was my (apparently erroneous) understanding. Lucky thing I never had to face a real not guilty/insanity defense at trial, it seems I might have flubbed it!

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