Simon Watts was a school teacher, convicted of 10 counts of various sexual abuse charges for molesting five individual third and fourth grade students.
Prior to trial, in a motion in limine, the People argued, and the trial court held, that although uncharged crime evidence showing that Watts had been previously accused of abusing other children was not admissible under Molineux or Sandoval, Watts would open the door to this evidence if he questioned witnesses about their pending civil suits against the school, because the fact that Watts had “done it before” was the impetus for these lawsuits. Trial counsel protested the ruling as a restriction on her right of cross-examination, and then unwittingly walked through the proverbial door, leading to the elicitation of the uncharged crimes evidence.
On appeal, we challenged the conviction on numerous grounds — among them arguing that the trial erred in holding that defendant had opened the door to the uncharged crimes evidence by fully exercising defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense and to cross examine witnesses about their pecuniary interest in the outcome of the case.
Today, we won. In a unanimous and detailed decision, the Appellate Division reversed Simon Watts’s conviction, and ordered a new trial. The NYLJ story, the decision, our opening brief, and the link to the oral argument are attached.