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Nov/Dec Volunteer Feature: Shearman & Sterling Obtains Important Appellate Ruling For Criminal Defendants And Crucial Benefits For Physically And Mentally Disabled New Yorkers

Court of Appeals Recognizes Rights of Criminal Defendant to Present Expert Testimony

On October 27th, a team of Shearman & Sterling attorneys, working in conjunction with The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Appeals Bureau, won a resounding victory in the New York Court of Appeals. A unanimous bench reversed a first-degree robbery conviction because the trial judge had improperly barred the testimony of a qualified scientific expert pertaining to the difficulties inherent with eyewitness identification. The defendant, Mr. Quentin Abney, had been accused of committing a subway robbery that lasted only a few seconds, against a stranger. The prosecution submitted no physical or forensic evidence that connected Mr. Abney to the crime and, at trial, the defense presented strong evidence that Mr. Abney was picking up his stepdaughter at a Brooklyn day care center around the time of the incident. Only the identification testimony of the victim linked Mr. Abney to the crime. Nonetheless, the trial judge steadfastly refused repeated defense requests to present expert testimony about the potential unreliability of such evidence. As a result, the jury convicted Mr. Abney and he was serving a 20-years-to-life sentence.

The Court of Appeals victory marked the culmination of Shearman's three-year effort with the Legal Aid Society to vindicate Mr. Abney's rights. In addition to its importance to Mr. Abney, the decision is legally significant, affirming, in no uncertain terms, that a trial court abuses its discretion when it blocks the introduction of expert proof in a case built largely or entirely on eyewitness testimony. The Shearman team was led by partner Brain Polovoy and included associates Karen S. Hart, Alexander J. Marcopoulos, and Ashley W. Walker. Richard Joselson, a Supervising Attorney with the Criminal Appeals Bureau, assisted the Shearman lawyers in their efforts.

Disabled Low-Income New Yorkers Win Social Security Disability Benefits

Josh Goodman, an associate with Shearman & Sterling, provided outstanding counsel for physically and mentally disabled low-income New Yorkers seeking Social Security Disability benefits. As a first year associate, he took on the challenge of representing a young psychotic claimant who believed he was a character in the Matrix film trilogy. He pursued and obtained out-of-the-ordinary evidence, including court orders mandating psychiatric treatment. The Administrative Law Judge issued a fully favorable decision and Mr. Goodman ensured that his client obtained the correct benefits. Mr. Goodman continued his pro bono work in this area and mentored a Shearman summer associate who was seeking disability benefits for a man who was blind in one eye and suffered from diabetes, asthma, and depression. When the hearing was not scheduled during the summer, he continued on the case and personally represented a challenging client who due, in part, to his mental illness, missed a number of appointments. Mr. Goodman recognized the client's behavior to be a manifestation of his illness and obtained a fully favorable decision before one of the more idiosyncratic Administrative Law Judges. Stephen Godeski, a senior disability law attorney with the Civil Practice, assisted Mr. Goodman.

Pro Bono and legal aid attorney resources - Pro Bono Net

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