People v. Young – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In People v. Young, 7 NY3d 40, 850 N.E.2d 623, 817 N.Y.S.2d 576 [2006], the defendant was convicted of robbery and burglary, for committing a home invasion, while armed, where he threatened the complainants and stole their personal property.

The defendant had covered most of his face and was in the home for approximately five to seven minutes. One of the complainants stated that she observed the defendant in sufficient light, but retained only an image of his eyes.

The defendant was black and the complainants white. The defendant was arrested a month after the event, and though he was not identified by one of the complainants, the other picked him out of a lineup, although she did fail to recognize him in a photo array. Property of the complainants was recovered from acquaintances of the defendant.

The complainant testified at trial to her line-up identification and the defendant was convicted. However, his conviction was reversed, as the result of an arrest not based upon probable cause. The line-up identification was suppressed.

Eight years later, before the defendant was retried, the trial court held an independent source hearing, and found independent source. The complainant made an in-court identification at the second trial. The defendant sought to introduce at the second trial expert testimony from a psychologist who had studied factors which affected the accuracy of identifications, such as the opportunity to observe, race, stress, whether a weapon was used in the crime, and witness confidence in the identification.

The trial court excluded the evidence, the defendant was convicted again, and this time his conviction was affirmed. The Court of Appeals stated that a trial court must determine if "the expert could tell the jury something significant that jurors would not ordinarily be expected to know already" (see, Young at page 45).

The Court found in that case that in light of the corroboration presented by the People, it was reasonable for the trial court to determine that the expert testimony would have been of minor import, and therefore it was a reasonable exercise of the trial court's discretion to preclude the testimony.

The Court continued, however, that, "if this case turned entirely on an uncorroborated eyewitness identification, it might well have been an abuse of discretion to deny the jury the benefit of [the expert's] opinions" (see, Young at page 45).