The evidence of some of those crimes introduced created a "spillover effect" on the fair prosecution of Morales for the shootings and warranted reversal of his conviction and a retrial, the court held.
"Without the aura of terrorism looming over the case, the activities of defendant's associates in other contexts would have been largely, if not entirely, inadmissible," Graffeo wrote.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick (See Profile), Susan Phillips Read (See Profile), Robert Smith (See Profile) and Eugene Pigott Jr. (See Profile) joined the ruling.
The decision affirmed, in part, the finding by the Appellate Division, First Department, which said that Morales' crimes did not qualify as terrorism. But the lower court upheld Morales' conviction (NYLJ, Nov. 10, 2010).
Peter Coddington, the chief appellate attorney in the Bronx District Attorney's Office, argued for the prosecution.
Catherine Amirfar, a Debevoise & Plimpton attorney who handled the case pro bono, said the court made clear that the Legislature did not intend that crimes related to "regular gang violence" be treated as terrorism for purposes of the 2001 statute.
"I think that it's a tremendous decision. It can only be described as a landmark decision," Amirfar said. "I think the court determined that the result was unjust and that the prosecution's approach here was an unconscionable stretch of what we know terrorism to be."
Amirfar said she intended to remain Morales' attorney for a retrial.
In an amicus curiae brief filed to support the defendant's position, the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law argued that the Penal Law is replete with statutes that adequately punish gang-related crimes without the need for prosecutors to resort to laws that were enacted in response to 9/11-style terrorism.
The center contended that misapplying the anti-terrorism statutes toward gang violence harms prosecutors' ability to combat both terrorists and gang members.