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Law School Case Brief

People v. Jennings - 69 N.Y.2d 103, 512 N.Y.S.2d 652, 504 N.E.2d 1079 (N.Y. 1986)


Legally sufficient evidence means competent evidence that, if accepted as true, would establish every element of an offense charged and the defendant's commission thereof. In determining whether the People have reached that stage, all questions as to the quality or weight of the proof should be deferred. In other words if the prosecutor has established a prima facie case, the evidence is legally sufficient even though its quality or weight may be so dubious as to preclude indictment or conviction pursuant to other requirements. Evidence may be "legally sufficient" to support a charge although it does not prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," and for that matter, although it does not even provide "reasonable cause" to believe that the defendant committed the crime charged.


On Dec. 13, 1982, a warehouse owned by defendant Sentry Armored Courier Corporation ("Sentry") was burglarized and robbed of some $ 11 million by individuals unconnected to Sentry, who were later apprehended and prosecuted. In the aftermath of the robbery, the Bronx County District Attorney's office focused its attention on Sentry's own business practices. A series of indictments charging Sentry and its principals, including defendant John Jennings, with various counts of grand larceny and misapplication of property ensued. The prosecution asserted that defendants were involved with alleged misappropriation "schemes" where defendants used money entrusted to them in a "repurchase agreement plan," such that they invested money left in their care to obtain interest benefits before the funds were due to be returned to their client. The indictments were dismissed, however, because of legally insufficient proof. On appeal, the appellate division reversed two orders dismissing indictments, and it reinstated two of the indictments. Both the People and defendants appealed.


Was the evidence presented to the grand jury legally sufficient to support the charges of grand larceny and misapplication of property?




The Court of Appeals of New York modified the appellate division's orders and affirmed the orders as modified. The court ruled, inter alia, that the facts presented to the grand jury were legally insufficient to support the charges of grand larceny and misapplication of property. What was lacking from the People's proof for a larceny charge was evidence demonstrating the intent to deprive or to appropriate. The evidence did not satisfy the lesser crime of misapplication of property because there was no actual risk of loss of the property and the client suffered no material economic loss as a result of the "repurchase agreements." However, with respect to the count charging Jennings and another defendant with misapplication of property in connection with the "compensatory balance" account, the elements of that count were satisfied by the evidence showing that defendants had encumbered a client's funds in such a manner as to place them at risk, and thus the misapplication charge in that particular indictment was legally supportable. The court further ruled that the appellate division improperly reinstated the indictment charging Jennings with having committed second degree larceny by failing to remit insurance proceeds to the intended beneficiaries.

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