skip navigation


liibulletin-ny

People v. Bello, 1998 N.Y. Int. 0173 (Dec. 22, 1998).

CRIMINAL LAW - SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE - SALE OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether evidence before a grand jury which indicates that a defendant acted as a "screener" for the sale of crack cocaine by another is legally sufficient to sustain a charge of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree as an accomplice.

Disposition

Yes. Under the facts of this case, the Grand Jury could reasonably conclude that Defendant aided the sale of crack cocaine by questioning and screening the undercover officer to whom narcotics were sold by a third party. The third party decided to sell the crack cocaine to the undercover officer only after Defendant's questions yielded information useful to the seller's determination as to whether to make the illegal sale. Therefore, threshold standard of legal sufficiency was thus satisfied and the indictment must be reinstated.

SUMMARY

The State presented evidence to the Grand Jury indicating that Defendant and Evelyn Castellar were standing outside a Manhattan apartment. An undercover police officer approached them and asked about the availability of $5 bags of crack cocaine. Defendant allegedly asked "how many [the officer] was looking for" and the undercover officer replied "four." Defendant also allegedly asked if the undercover officer was a "cop," to which she replied "no." Castellar, who was also standing outside the building, then said "I only have dimes [$10 bags of crack cocaine]. Come with me." Following this exchange, the officer accompanied Castellar inside the building, where Castellar sold the officer one "dime" bag. After the undercover officer field-tested the drugs and concluded that the bag in fact contained crack cocaine, another officer arrested Defendant and Castellar. The Grand Jury indicted Defendant and Castellar with criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree pursuant to Penal Law § 220.39(1).

Castellar pled guilty to attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment arguing that the evidence before the Grand Jury was insufficient to establish the charged crime or any lesser included offense. The trial court granted Defendant's motion; the Appellate Division reversed and reinstated the indictment. The Appellate Division held that the evidence was sufficient to establish a prima facie case that Defendant, with the knowledge that the substance to be sold was crack cocaine, intentionally aided Castellar in making the illegal sale and reinstated the indictment. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and then affirmed the Appellate Division's order reinstating the indictment.

The Court rejected Defendant's assertion that the Grand Jury could not logically infer that Defendant assisted Castellar in executing particular drug sale at issue because Castellar interposed herself between Defendant and the officer and sold a different quantity from a different location than had been suggested by Defendant. The Court noted that "[t]o require the degree of specificity defendant suggests would skew a reviewing court's inquiry and restrict, if not extinguish, the Grand Jury's unassailable authority to consider logical inferences that flow from the facts presented."

The Court of Appeals concluded that the "Grand Jury could logically infer that defendant aided the sale through his questions and screening of the undercover officer. It was only after defendant's questions elicited information useful to enable Castellar to decide whether she wanted to make the sale that Castellar actually sold the crack cocaine to the undercover officer. The threshold standard of legal sufficiency was thus met."


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.