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Appeals court orders new trial in assault and robbery case

Defendant's statement should have been suppressed

A state appeals court has ordered a new trial in an assault and robbery case because the defendant’s post-arrest statement was improperly used by the prosecutor.

Defendant Kai Watkins, 44, was convicted in January 2018 in state Supreme Court in the Bronx before Justice Lester A. Adler of second-degree robbery and third-degree assault.

Watkins was sentenced as a persistent violent felony offender to 16 years to life.

In a recent decision, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, First Department, ruled that the jury verdict was based on legally sufficient evidence and was not against the weight of the evidence.

“Despite the absence of an identification by the robbery victim, defendant’s guilt was established by, among other things, defendant’s confession and fingerprint evidence connecting him with the crime,” the court wrote.

But the court added: “With respect to the suppression court’s denial of defendant’s application to suppress his post-arrest statement, the statement should have been suppressed.”

At the suppression hearing, the prosecutor’s only witness was the detective who interviewed and took a statement from a co-defendant who implicated Watkins. The same officer subsequently interviewed and took the challenged statement of Watkins.

At the suppression hearing, the detective testified that he interviewed the co-defendant, that the co-defendant implicated Watkins, that the co-defendant identified Watkins by photograph, and that Watkins was not a suspect before he was implicated by the co-defendant.

There was no evidence about what the detective did with the statement, and no evidence that the detective passed on any of the information he received from the co-defendant. There also was no indication in the hearing that the detective told anyone that the co-defendant had identified Watkins by photograph, according to the decision.

“There is no direct evidence that the statement implicating defendant was communicated to the officers arresting him,” the court wrote.

“The People failed to submit evidence sufficient to support the suppression court’s findings … Although the officers who arrested defendant were not required to testify, the People’s initial evidentiary presentation, consisting of the testimony of the investigating detective, was insufficient to permit the inference that information constituting probable cause was transmitted by the detective to the officers effectuating the arrest of defendant,” the court wrote.

“We need not consider whether defendant’s testimony before the suppression court could have been used to remedy deficiencies in the People’s presentation,” the First Department wrote.

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