Court Improperly Allowed Hearsay Testimony, However, the Error was Harmless and the Conviction Affirmed
In People v Beato, 2015 NY Slip Op 00617, the Appellate Division for the First Department did not disturb the conviction of Mr. Beato even though the Court found that the trial judge’s decision to allow the District Attorney to introduce Hearsay testimony violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. The Court held that the decisions to allow the Hearsay testimony was harmless error in light of the weight of the evidence.
The defendant was arrested following an instigation by a team of seven police officers that surveilled defendant’s and codefendants’ activities over the course of several hours. The police officers recovered a Ziploc bag containing drugs from the approximate location by the fence where defendant had been seen placing an item. The Defendant was observed speaking with alleged buyers of narcotics and was observed directing them to his codefendants. Based on their observations, the police officers stopped suspected buys and found on them a Ziploc containing crack on one buyer, drug paraphernalia on another that was still warm from recent use. The last suspected buyer was stopped after the police observed him hand Blanco something in exchange for something Blanco removed from the fence. The suspected buyer was found carrying six Ziploc bags containing crack cocaine.
The trial judge allowed the Manhattan District Attorney to elicit testimony about from the arresting officers about conversations they had with the suspected buyers where the buyers accused the defendant of being their dealer. The Court held that the introduction of this evidence was in violation of the defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him as he could not cross examine the alleged buyers, who obviously where not called to testify at trial. However, in light of the above described evidence of guilt, the Court found that the error to allow the introduction of the hearsay to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
As a matter of background, hearsay is defined as an out of court statement being introduced in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. A hearsay statement is considered testimonial, and implicates an accused confrontation rights, when the circumstances objectively indicate that the primary purpose of the police questions that lead to the out of court declarations was to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.