A Bronx judge’s “unreasonable” application of U.S. Supreme Court confrontation clause jurisprudence denied a defendant a fair trial and resulted in his conviction on a homicide charge, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said Monday.
The court upheld Southern District Judge Colleen McMahon (See Profile) in granting Julio Alvarez a writ of habeas corpus. It said Bronx Supreme Court Justice Edward Davidowitz undermined the defense by barring Alvarez from questioning a detective about whether police pursued various leads.
“But for the trial court’s unreasonable interpretation of clearly established Sixth Amendment law and the error that resulted from that interpretation, the jury might well have acquitted Alvarez not only of murder, but of any involvement in the case,” the circuit said in an opinion by Judge Guido Calabresi (See Profile) and joined by judges Dennis Jacobs (See Profile) and Debra Ann Livingston (See Profile). See Alvarez v. Ercole, 13-2828-pr.
Alvarez was convicted of manslaughter and assault in connection to a 2002 shooting that resulted in the death of Bronx drug dealer Daniel Colon and the wounding of two other victims. He is serving a 45-year sentence.
At trial, Alvarez sought to cross examine the lead detective to show that authorities had not pursued leads provided by a witness. The witness’ tips were contained in the detective’s notes and an investigative report.
Davidowitz barred Alvarez from pursuing that line of questioning on the grounds that it would result in the introduction of impermissible hearsay.
But Calebresi said Alvarez sought to cross examine the detective about the report “to show that the police had not pursued known leads” rather than to show that the account was true. He said Davidowitz “effectively denied Alvarez the opportunity to develop his only defense.”
William Carney of the Legal Aid Society argued the appeal for Alvarez on April 10. Assistant Bronx District Attorney Cynthia Carlson argued for the prosecution.