A Nassau County judge has reopened an evidentiary hearing – in the midst of a vehicular homicide trial – to determine whether the teenage defendant's constitutional rights were violated after a state trooper changed his story about where evidence was collected at a fatal crash scene.
The hearing, before Nassau County Court Judge David Sullivan, is exploring whether 19-year-old Joseph Beer’s constitutionally protected rights against illegal search and seizure were violated when police retrieved a cell phone from the scene of a fatal crash Beer was involved in along the Southern State Parkway in October 2012.
Authorities have alleged Beer was high on marijuana behind the wheel of his Subaru Impreza and speeding at more than 110 mph before he lost control of the car and smashed into a tree along the Southern State Parkway. The crash killed four of his friends and Beer, who is currently on trial, is facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, reckless driving and reckless endangerment.
Following testimony in his trial Monday, Beer’s defense attorney, Todd Greenberg, moved to question witnesses again in the evidentiary hearing. Former Nassau County Judge David Ayers had heard arguments in the same hearing last June and ruled that Beer’s rights were not violated, but in court Monday, Sullivan, the judge now presiding over the trial, said the hearing was being reopened after a New York State trooper who responded to the scene “came before this court with information that is different than his previous testimony.”
The testimony relates to four cell phones and an iPod touch that were recovered hours after the fatal crash on Oct. 8, 2012 along the westbound lanes of the Southern State Parkway in Malverne. At the hearing last June, Trooper Eduardo Arias testified that he found all four phones on the ground outside of the car, he said. On the stand Monday, Arias said one of the phones, a black Samsung, had been found on the driver’s seat of what remained of Beer’s car after the crash.
When questioned by defense lawyer Todd Greenberg, the trooper said he “made a mistake.” Greenberg asked the trooper: “We’ve established your testimony at the hearing was not true, correct?” He responded: “As far as the location of the phones, correct.” Arias told the defense lawyer he takes his job “very seriously.” He is expected back on the stand Tuesday afternoon.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the hearing.