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People v. Hedgeman - 70 N.Y.2d 533, 523 N.Y.S.2d 46, 517 N.E.2d 858 (1987)


In accordance with N.Y. Penal Law § 5.00, when interpreting N.Y. Penal Law, the provisions must be read according to the fair import of their terms to promote justice and effect the objects of the law. As with other statutory provisions, those contained in the penal law are generally to be construed so as to give effect to their most natural and obvious meaning. This is particularly important where the definition of a crime is at issue, because courts must be scrupulous in insuring that penal responsibility is not extended beyond the fair scope of the statutory mandate. Applying these general rules, the Court of Appeals of New York examines a statute by analyzing its plain meaning, legislative history, and underlying sense and purpose


After a jury trial in New York state court, defendant Stanley Hedgeman was convicted of robbery, second degree, arising from the holdup of a bank. Hedgeman appealed, contending that the trial court should have granted his motion to dismiss, made at the close of the People's case, upon the ground that there was insufficient proof, as a matter of law, to show that he committed the robbery while "aided by another person actually present." A divided appellate division affirmed the conviction, holding, in part, that a getaway driver shown to be parked approximately 15 feet from the bank at the time of the robbery could be considered "actually present" at the robbery, inasmuch as the history of the Penal Law "suggested an elimination" of the distinction between "actual" and "constructive" presence. Hedgeman was granted permission to appeal. 


Was an alleged accomplice to a robbery, who acted solely as a getaway driver, "another person actually present" within the meaning of the aggravating accomplice factor of robbery, and thereby liable under Penal Law § 160.10 [1] for second degree robber?




The Court of Appeals of New York modified Hedgeman's conviction for robbery in the second degree to be a conviction for robbery in the third degree, and the court remitted the case for resentencing. The court ruled that, where an accomplice to a robbery, such as Hedgeman, acted solely as the getaway driver and participated in neither the threat of force, its use, nor the taking of property, and was not in the immediate vicinity of the robbery or so positioned as to be capable of rendering immediate assistance to the robber, he was not "another person actually present" within the meaning of the aggravating accomplice factor of robbery, second degree (Penal Law § 160.10 [1]). The court reasoned that both the legislative history and the plain meaning of the phrase "actually present" ruled out the interpretation that it could include a person who was only constructively present at the crime scene.

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