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The ability of drugs to produce a psychotic state that could cause a man to believe he was being chased by a killer is outside the knowledge of the average juror, a New York Appellate Division, 1st Department, panel has ruled. The unanimous panel held that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman’s refusal to allow a defendant to present expert testimony regarding drug-induced delusional states therefore constituted reversible error. The panel vacated a second-degree burglary conviction and maximum 10-year prison sentence and remanded the case for a new trial before another judge. “We find … contrary to the trial court’s holding, that the ability of narcotics, specifically cocaine, to produce a psychotic, delusional and paranoid state in which defendant could truly believe his life was in danger, despite minimal, if any, evidence of such danger, would not be within the ken of the average juror,” the panel wrote last week in its unsigned opinion, People v. Madera, 6490. Justices Richard T. Andrias, George D. Marlow, Joseph P. Sullivan, Betty Weinberg Ellerin and Eugene L. Nardelli sat on the panel. The decision was published Tuesday in the print edition of the Law Journal. At around 7 a.m. on July 27, 2001, defendant Osvaldo Madera pushed his way into 88-year-old Grace Albanese’s West 175th Street apartment. He pinned her arms behind her back, then covered her mouth with his hand to stifle her screaming. A neighbor called the police and two officers arrived within five minutes. Madera was arrested and charged with burglary. A small plastic bag containing cocaine residue was found in his pocket. At trial, Madera’s counsel, Renee Leviton of the Legal Aid Society, introduced numerous witnesses who testified to Madera’s use of alcohol and cocaine in the hours proceeding his arrest, as well as to his erratic behavior. He was acting “strange,” “crazy,” “hyped up” and “paranoid,” according to various witnesses. Madera himself testified to his extraordinary attempt to avoid killers he believed were chasing him. After hearing a “pop” and seeing a hole in a nearby glass door — a gunshot from an unknown assailant, he feared — he tried to hide in a friend’s apartment, jumped from a second-story fire escape, leaped over a fence and ran across the roof of one building and onto another before attempting to hide in Albanese’s apartment, he claimed. His attorney attempted to introduce psychiatric evidence intended to negate a showing of criminal intent by demonstrating that Madera’s actual intent in entering Albanese’s apartment was to “seek refuge” from a killer, a “perceived threat that was grounded in defendant’s mental disease or defect, rather than reality,” the panel wrote. The defense also sought to introduce the testimony of psychiatrist Myles Schneider, who had concluded that Madera suffered from “polysubstance abuse disorder: primarily cocaine induced — psychiatric disorder with delusions.” TESTIMONY BARRED Berkman barred any such evidence or testimony. “I know Dr. Schneider is a wonderful witness, intelligent, nice man, the kind to testify about fancy-dancy things and tell us what he thinks the defendant might have thought at the time to insulate him from cross-examination and put hearsay before the jury,” Berkman said. But the judge said she was “left with the abiding conviction that this is really a phony non-issue… . This is not rocket science.” When Berkman subsequently issued an order precluding Madera from offering psychiatric evidence about delusions allegedly caused by his drug use, she wrote, “The ‘mental illness’ of drug addiction is widely seen and commonly understood and hardly necessitates complex psychiatric exploration or explanation.” She added, “Leaving aside personal experiences, articles in the print-media and television documentaries, movies such as ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936), ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945) and more currently, ‘[The] Basketball D[iaries]‘ (1995), ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998) and ‘Blow’ (2001) have all featured psychotic-type episodes connected with substance (including cocaine) abuse or withdrawal.” The 1st Department disagreed. Last week, a panel reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. “[T]he trial court apparently concluded that the average juror was capable of understanding drug-induced delusional states and, in reaching that conclusion, relied on unidentified articles in the print media, unnamed television documentaries, and such movie titles as ‘Reefer Madness’ and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vega,’” the appeals panel held. However, the court said, “[A]bsent such testimony, the jury was likely left to conclude that no reasonable person would presume that some unknown person was chasing him and trying to kill him merely because he thought he heard a ‘pop’ and observed a hole in a glass door.” Madera’s appellate attorney, Gayle Pollack of the Center for Appellate Litigation, said she is in the process of preparing papers seeking to have bail reinstated. Madera has been housed in the Fishkill Correctional Facility since May 2002. Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Meredith Boylan prosecuted the appeal. A spokeswoman from the district attorney’s office said that because this decision was reversed “in the interest of justice,” it would not be appealed.

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