People v. Zackowitz

254 N.Y. 192, 172 N.E. 466 (1930)



Character is never an issue in a criminal prosecution unless the defendant chooses to make it one.

The practice of calling out evidence for one purpose, apparently innocent, and using it for another, which is illegal, is improper; and, if it is clear and manifest that the avowed object is colorable merely, its admission is error. Even more plainly is it a perversion to call out evidence for an avowed object manifestly illegal, and use it later on appeal as if admitted at another stage in aid of another purpose innocent and lawful.


Four young men, of whom Frank Coppola was one, were at work repairing an automobile in a Brooklyn street on November 10, 1929, shortly after midnight. Enraged by the fact that his wife has been insulted by one of the four men, Joseph Zackowitz, the defendant, upbraided the offenders with words of coarse profanity. The spouses then went back to their apartment. Within the apartment the defendant, who was heated with liquor which he had been drinking at a dance, induced his wife to tell him what the insulting words had been. Upon learning of the insult, the defendant went back to the scene of the insult and found the four young men still working at the car. Words and blows followed; thereafter, the defendant shot Coppola which resulted to the latter’s death. He was arrested on January 7, 1930, about two months following the crime. Defendant was convicted with the crime of murder in the first degree.  Defendant appealed, arguing that evidence regarding his possession of guns not involved in the homicide was improperly admitted at trial and, consequently, prejudiced defendant.


If the defendant’s possession of guns not involved in the homicide was presented as evidence at trial, can it be considered as an act prejudicial to the defendant?




According to the Court, while the prosecution contended it offered the evidence of possession of the guns to impeach defendant's credibility because he had no license for the guns, the evidence was actually used to evidence defendant's murderous disposition. Thus, the Court held that the admission of the evidence unduly prejudiced defendant.

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