Case Name: People v. Zackowitz
Citation: 254 NY 192 (1930)
Facts: Zackowitz, the defendant, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death after killing a young man, Coppola. The incident occurred after Coppola and three other young men said insulting words to the defendant’s wife. The defendant’s wife informed Zackowitz after the incident when the two of them were at home. Enraged Zackowitz went back to the men, exchanged words, and shot one of the men, Coppola, with a pistol. The state brought in evidence about three pistols and a teargas gun (none of which were used in the shooting) to show that Zackowitz was “a desperate type of criminal” and a “person criminally inclined.”
Issue: Whether the evidence regarding the defendant’s three pistols and teargas gun were properly admitted.
State’s argument: The evidence was brought to show the defendant’s killing was deliberate and premeditated (first-degree murder) due to the inference that he was “a desperate type of criminal” and a “person criminally inclined.”
Defendant’s argument: The evidence shows a murderous propensity which is character evidence. Under the rules of evidence, character evidence cannot be introduced unless the defendant first makes it an issue.
Reasoning: The evidence was improperly admitted as character evidence which cannot be introduced unless the defendant first makes it an issue. This is to prevent prejudice of the defendant by the jury. Not to mention, the evidence might not even have been relevant.
Judgment: The conviction was reversed and a new trial ordered.