Whether admission of portions of a co-defendant's guilty plea allocution in the criminal trial that wrongly infringed on Defendant's rights was harmless error.
Yes. While co-defendant's guilty plea allocution was not demonstrably reliable and its admittance therefore in error, limiting instructions to the jury regarding these statements prevented a prejudicial impact on the jury's conviction of Defendant, and it was therefore harmless error.
Defendant and co-defendant were charged in a multiple count indictment to which co-defendant plea bargained for a reduced charge. Co-defendant's guilty plea allocution admitted the involvement of Defendant as an accomplice in the alleged crimes. At Defendant's trial, the court overruled Defendant's objections and allowed portions of the guilty plea allocutions to be read into the record. Prior to the prosecution's reading the statements into the record, the jury was instructed to use the statements only to determine whether Defendant acted in concert with another person in connection with the crimes charged, and not for identification purposes. The jury convicted Defendant and the Appellate Division affirmed.
The Court of Appeals held that the guilty plea allocution statement was wrongly admitted at trial because the statements did not meet the threshold test of reliability. However, because the jury instructions expressly limited use of the allocution, its admission at trial did not have a prejudicial effect on the conviction and was therefore harmless error. Despite the negative holding with respect to the admission of the co-defendant's allocution, the Court of Appeals affirmed based on its harmless error analysis.
Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.