Police Arrest Suspect in 2008 Cony Island Murder
An informer’s tip led to the arrest of a man in connection with the 2008 shooting death of livery cab driver Khadim Bhatti.
According to police, Christopher Smith shot the Pakistani native and grandfather of seven after a botched robbery. Smith was arrested in West Virginia, where he was being held on unrelated charges. His criminal record includes a stint in a New York state prison following a strangulation conviction.
Two other men fled the Coney Island crime scene along with Smith, so there may be subsequent arrests.
Before police officers make arrests, they must have probable cause. This evidentiary standard is quite low. Nevertheless, officers must have some credible evidence of wrongdoing.
DUI field sobriety tests are a good example. Exercises like walking a straight line are quite subjective. And, there are many reasons, other than intoxication, that a person could not walk a straight line. But test results are more than sufficient for probable cause.
Informer’s tips may also serve as probable cause. Once upon a time, courts used a rigid test to evaluate a tip’s reliability. Now, the examination is much more flexible. Courts may consider a variety of factors, such as:
- Source: In and of themselves, anonymous tips are almost always unreliable. There is no way to tell if the tipster is biased or lying. If two or three people provide roughly the same information, that’s different. Or, if there is some way to verify the information, that’s different as well.
- Payoff: Paid police informants sometimes collect thousands of dollars for the information they provide. Other informants turn “state’s evidence” to avoid prosecution or reduce their own criminal liability. These payments do not invalidate the tip, but they do raise an eyebrow.
- Specificity: General information like a reckless driver on the Long Island Expressway is practically useless. A tip like a dark SUV operating recklessly on the southbound side of the Long Island Expressway is better.
In court, prosecutors cannot work backwards. They cannot argue that since the tip was accurate, it must have been reliable. Tips stand or fall on their own merits.
As far as criminal liability is concerned, the person who serves as a lookout is just as guilty of armed robbery as the person who went into the bank with a pistol. That’s usually true even if the defendant did not know the whole plan or a death occurs as a result making the lookout guilty under the theory of felony- murder. It is not normally illegal to stand at a corner and look for cops. But in this context, that participation is usually sufficient.
New York by statute allows a defendant to plead affirmative defenses – they are:
(a) Did not commit the homicidal act or in any way solicit, request,
command, importune, cause or aid the commission thereof; and
(b) Was not armed with a deadly weapon, or any instrument, article or
substance readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury
and of a sort not ordinarily carried in public places by law-abiding
(c) Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant was
armed with such a weapon, instrument, article or substance; and
(d) Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant
intended to engage in conduct likely to result in death or serious
(New York Penal Law Section 125.25 – Murder in the second degree)
Is Justice Delayed Justice Denied?
Victims and victims’ families are always upset when the legal system seems to deny justice for a long period of time. Ironically, many defendants are frustrated when their cases take several months, or even longer, to resolve. But generally, the more time passes, the more difficult it is to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A 2008 murder which goes to trial in 2020, or even later, is a good example. Since there is little physical evidence, the state’s case will probably rely on witnesses. Generally, the defendant bragged to someone about committing the crime, and that someone notified police. Over time, however, memories fade. In fact, they may fade so much that the witness testimony may seem incompetent to a jury to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This will be an interesting case to follow.