Appeals Panel Overturns Conviction of Lebovits in Molestation Case

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In an unexpected turn of events, a New York appeals court has overturned the conviction of a Chassidic man who was sentenced in 2010 to 10.5 to 32 years in prison for repeatedly perpetrating sexually abusive acts on a teenager from the Orthodox community.

The court based its decision on a technicality, explaining that a detective on the case had not submitted his handwritten notes within the appropriate time period before the trial.

The criminal case against Baruch Lebovits – who has already spent one year in prison and another under house arrest on the charges – was one of the more notable accomplishments of the Brooklyn district attorney’s sex-crimes unit. DA Charles Hynes’ office has been exerting strenuous efforts to convince members of the Orthodox community to work closely with the government in its attempts to prosecute abusers.

Despite the conviction of Lebovits on eight of ten counts of molestation and his severe sentence, the defendant’s legal team – led by Arthur Aidala and augmented by the addition of famed attorney Alan Dershowitz – persuaded the authorities to place him under house arrest last April, pending his appeal.

The panel of four judges stated that even though there was evidence to prove Lebovits’ guilt, the prosecution had deprived him of a fair trial, because it waited until the middle of the trial to hand over handwritten notes the detective had written about the one witness the defense had planned to call.

“Here, the untimely disclosure of the interview notes precluded the defense from fully and adequately preparing for cross-examination and set a trap for the defendant which had already sprung at the time the notes were finally furnished,” the panel wrote. The detective’s notes mentioned a claim by the accuser that the defense’s witness had offered him a bribe to withdraw the case.

Terming the decision “a total victory, and probably the end of the case,” Dershowitz maintained that, in the possible event of a retrial, the defense would be able to “introduce all new evidence we have gathered showing our client was a victim of an extortion plot.” Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, commented, “We’re prepared to retry the case. That’s all I can say.”

Interestingly, the detective whose delayed submission of notes helped overturn the decision has had a similar role in another complicated case under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn DA’s office. In that case, Detective Steve Litwin’s notes reporting a woman’s disavowal of a rape accusation was not given over to defense lawyers for nearly a full year. Schmetterer chose not to comment on Detective Litwin’s participation in both cases.

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