New Trial Granted For Conewango Resident

A Conewango man has been granted a new trial after appealing his June 2017 conviction in Cattaraugus County Court.

Norman L. Geddis of Conewango had been sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison by Cattaraugus County Judge Ronald D. Ploetz on charges of felony assault, menacing, criminal mischief and unlawful imprisonment. Geddis allegedly used a firearm to injure a person and prevent the person from calling for medical help. The Fourth Department Appellate Court of Appeals in Rochester ordered a new trial on three of the four charges against Geddis.

According to the decision, Geddis failed to preserve for appellate review his challenge of the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction of second-degree assault and the court declined to exercise its ability to review that contention.

“Viewing the evidence in the light of the elements of the crimes as charged to the jury, we conclude that the verdict is not against the weight of the evidence,” the court wrote.

The court did agree with Geddis that Cattaraugus County Court had violated Geddis’ right to be present during questioning of possible jurors regarding bias, hostility or predisposition to believe or discredit the testimony of possible witnesses. At the start of the trial, Geddis and his attorney were notified of Geddis’ right to be present at bench conferences, specifically telling Geddis he was welcome and expected to come to the bench any time the court had to discuss an issue with the attorneys. Geddis was further advised that if he didn’t want to be at the bench during discussion to discuss the issue with his attorney. The court also said if Geddis didn’t approach the bench the court would assume he didn’t want to take part in the discussion. Geddis indicated he understood, according to the appellate court.

During a break in jury selection, a prospective juror stayed behind in the courtroom. Geddis was not present when the prospective juror told the court and the attorneys she wasn’t sure if she fully responded to a question earlier. The judge asked Geddis’ attorney if he wanted Geddis present, and Geddis’ lawyer said he was “OK with it” and that Geddis was in the restroom. The juror then told the court and attorneys that her son was a convicted felon. Shortly thereafter, the defense counsel struck the juror with a peremptory challenge.

“Initially, we conclude that the situation at issue here constituted a material stage of trial inasmuch as the prospective juror volunteered information about her son’s status as a convicted felon,” the appellate court ruled. “This information was relevant to a question asked earlier during voir dire: ‘Have any of you or anyone close to you been a victim of a crime, a witness to a crime, been accused of a crime, or participated in any way in a criminal proceeding?’ That question was intended to be relevant to, inter alia, potential bias.”

See TRIAL, Page A10

From Page A5

Given the circumstances, the appellate court said, Geddis’ absence from the courtroom made it impossible for Geddis to knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to be present.

The court also agreed with Geddis’ contention that a victim should not have been allowed to testify with a therapy dog.

“Because there must be a retrial, we deem it appropriate to address defendant’s contention regarding the court’s decision to allow the victim to testify while accompanied by a therapy dog,” the court wrote. “In our view, the court abused its discretion in allowing the victim, an adult, to testify while accompanied by a therapy dog.”

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