Anthony Harden wanted to testify in his own defense, but was urged against it by his defense attorney and ultimately thwarted from taking the stand by the judge presiding over his trial.
Harden, 32, was ultimately convicted on three counts of first-degree assault and sentenced to serve up to 65 years in prison as a second felony offender in June 2010. Justices with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial on Thursday, noting that his right to due process was violated when he was denied the right to testify before the closing arguments began in his trial.
"[Harden's] testimony was certainly relevant to key disputed issues at trial," Justice Edward Spain wrote in the unanimous decision. "Contrary to the People's position on appeal, neither the admission at trial of defendant's exculpatory statements to police, nor the defense witnesses' favorable accounts of the incident, nor the potential adverse impact of testifying at trial on defendant's credibility supported the denial of defendant's right to testify."
Harden was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Veneliya Goodwin near Washington Park during the city's annual Larkfest celebration in September 2009. A group of people walking home from Lark Street —including a U.S. Army soldier and six University at Albany students —crossed in front of the vehicle as it was driving out of Washington Park at the Henry Johnson Boulevard intersection with State Street.
The pedestrians forced the vehicle to make an abrupt stop, which then spurred the driver and Harden to engage in a verbal confrontation with the group. Several moments later, Harden left the vehicle and pursued the group nearly 100 yards up State Street to confront them.
Harden punched the soldier in his face, breaking his nose, according to his indictment. He then brandished a knife at the man and made a deep long cut in his stomach, the indictment states.
Harden also stabbed the soldier's twin brother in his trachea and another man in the abdomen. All three individuals required surgery following the assault.
At trial, prosecutors portrayed Harden as the initial aggressor, even telling the group "I live for this" and "this is what I do" during the attack.
The defense called Goodwin and two eyewitnesses to testify in support of Harden's justification defense. The trial was heading to a charging conference —a part where the prosecution and defense meet with the judge to determine the instructions read to the jury —when Harden proclaimed that he wanted to testify on his own behalf.
Harden's defense attorney advised him against testifying, but said the court should reopen testimony if he wanted to take the stand. The trial judge denied the request and Harden was eventually found guilty on all three counts —a ruling and conviction that was overturned by the appellate division.
"Unlike strategic or tactical decisions concerning trial, which are within the authority of counsel, a defendant retains the authority to make certain fundamental decisions, including whether to testify on his or her own behalf, as county court acknowledged," the ruling states.