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Robbery conviction reversed, new trial ordered

Judge denied request for adjournment

A state appeals court has reversed a robbery conviction and granted a new trial.

Defendant Randy Reeves was convicted in September 2016 of first-degree robbery in state Supreme Court in Queens before Justice Deborah Stevens Modica.

In a decision released Tuesday, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Second Department, reversed the conviction “on the law and as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice,” and ordered a new trial.

Reeves was charged in connection with an incident that happened on Oct. 5, 2014. At trial, two witnesses identified Reeves as the assailant, while Reeves presented two alibi witnesses.

The appellate court rule that, Reeves “was deprived of his right to a fair trial.”

Modica denied a defense request for an adjournment to give Reeves’ sister time to travel to testify at the trial and later granted a prosecution request to give the jury a missing witness charge, telling the panel that an adverse inference could be drawn from her absence.

The judge has the discretion to grant or deny such a request, but that discretion should be narrowly construed.

“When the witness is identified to the court, and is to be found within the jurisdiction, a request for a short adjournment after a showing of some diligence and good faith should not be denied merely because of possible inconvenience to the court,” the Second Department wrote, quoting from People v Foy, a 1973 New York State Court of Appeals decision.

“Under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court should have granted a one-day continuance for the defendant’s daughter to travel to New York from out of state. The failure to grant this continuance cannot be considered harmless error, as there was conflicting testimony as to the defendant’s whereabouts at the time of the robbery,” the court wrote.

The evidence showed that Reeves’ daughter had knowledge of her father’s alibi and her testimony would have been noncumulative of the testimony of the other two alibi witnesses, but Reeves was denied the chance to present her testimony, according to the decision.

“The Supreme Court’s determinations to deny the defendant’s request for a continuance and to grant the prosecution’s request for a missing witness charge, when viewed together, deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial,” the Second Department ruled.

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