It took a long time, but we finally got it — Steve Raucci’s appeal of his conviction for setting explosives and vandalizing homes and cars during his reign as bully-boy of the Schenectady City School District.
How long did it take? Two years, actually, as Raucci’s appeals lawyer, Alan J. Pierce of Syracuse, requested and got extension after extension from the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, following Raucci’s trial in March of 2010.
The result is an 81-page brief arguing that Raucci’s conviction should be overturned or, failing that, that his sentence should be reduced from the 23-years-to-life that he got to the 17-to-25-years that he could have gotten.
I have sweated my way through this not-so-brief, wrestling with legal arcana that could easily choke a reader not initiated in the appellate arts, and my impression is that it’s largely nitpicking and does not argue or even imply that Steve Raucci is innocent. Some of the nits:
* An FBI video that was played for the jury, showing the explosive power of the kind of “quarter sticks” that Raucci planted, was unduly prejudicial.
* Testimony about crimes that Raucci was not charged with should not have been admitted.
* Raucci’s trial lawyer failed to object to a witness’s interpretation of facial expressions.
* A briefcase belonging to Raucci containing newspaper clippings was improperly seized.
* Raucci was improperly tried in Schenectady County for crimes that were committed in Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
That last one is actually an interesting issue: Under what circumstances can someone be tried in one county for crimes committed in another? The answer is, when the crimes were intended to have a “particular effect” in the first county, as Raucci’s extra-territorial vandalism was allegedly intended to have particular effects in Schenectady.
It’s something that can be argued. The curious thing here is that, as Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney pointed out to me, Raucci’s winning the argument would not do him any practical good, since the strictly Schenectady crimes he was convicted of are sufficient to keep him in prison for the full 23-to-life sentence. That’s because the trial judge, Polly Hoye, made the sentences for most of the 18 crimes concurrent.
A win on appeal for the 14 out-of-county crimes would be strictly academic.
But of course I understand this is what appeals lawyers do — they find every little hook they can possibly hang a fedora on, and they hope for the best.
The appeals brief sweepingly declares that the case against Raucci was “a weak, largely circumstantial case,” but as Carney noted, it failed to mention the most damning evidence, which was a tape recording of Raucci boasting of his crimes.
I can’t blame a lawyer for overlooking something as inconvenient as that. And as I say, no argument is made that Raucci didn’t commit the crimes he was convicted of.
I don’t know what a job like this costs — two years of work resulting in a dense 81-page document, with oral arguments still to come, but whatever it is, I guess Raucci is good for it. Even in prison, he collects his $79,067 pension, although a challenge to it is pending.