By CAROL DEMARE Staff Writer
a.m., Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A little known religion — Yoism — figured into an appeals court opinion this month in
which one judge dissented because a witness, one of the faith's founders, was
questioned extensively about his religious beliefs in a case involving a repeat
witness, psychologist Daniel Kriegman, who has experience in treating and
diagnosing sex offenders in Massachusetts, was called on behalf of the sex
offender, identified as Andrew O.
Andrew O. appealed to the
Appellate Division of state Supreme Court the determination by acting Supreme
Court Justice Harry W. Seibert of Saratoga County, following a bench trial,
that Andrew was a dangerous sex offender and should be confined to a secure
treatment facility. Before the bench trial, a jury trial was held in which the
panel determined Andrew suffered from a mental abnormality.
Kriegman and two other
witnesses testified at both trials. His testimony regarding Andrew's propensity
to commit another sex crime and the state's contention that he needed civil
management under New York's Mental Hygiene Law contradicted that of two mental
health experts called by Assistant Attorney General Kathleen M. Treasure.
Those witnesses, Dr.
Christine Rackley, a psychiatrist and member of the
Office of Mental Health's case review team, and Roger Harris, a forensic
psychologist, both concluded Andrew suffered from a mental abnormality. Rackley said Andrew had “serious difficulty controlling his
pedophile predilections.” Harris said Andrew suffered from pedophilia and
antisocial personality disorder.
Kriegman, however, testified
Andrew's scores on a test indicated a “moderate to low-risk of reconviction.”
Kriegman said Andrew did not suffer from a mental abnormality.
On appeal, Andrew, who was
represented by Sheila E. Shea of Mental Hygiene Legal Service, said he was
denied a fair trial on various grounds, one of which was misconduct by the
lawyer for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in her cross-examination of Kriegman
Four justices on the
five-member panel agreed with their dissenting colleague that questioning
Kriegman about his religious beliefs was improper and had “no place in either a
criminal or civil trial.” But it “did not substantially influence the jury's
verdict” and did not warrant a new trial.
Yoism, described as an “open-source religion” that was
founded in 1994 and follows beliefs created through a continuous process of
refinement and dialogue among the believers in comparison to traditional
religions, which Yoans consider authoritarian and
Followers claim their version
of open source religion does not have allegiance to any spiritual guide.
Instead, they believe the sense of authority emerges from the group via
Justice Robert S. Rose of
Broome County, in his brief but blistering dissent, noted that despite repeated
objections, the court allowed extensive questioning of Kriegman regarding his
affiliation with Yoism. He was asked if Yoism was an online religion and “whether any sports stars
were considered to be saints, thereby emphasizing its differences from the
religions with which the jurors would likely have been familiar,” Rose wrote.
While the attorney
questioning the psychologist said it was an important part of Kriegman's life experience and played a role in his
professional opinions, Rose called the questioning “patently irrelevant to any
issue in the proceeding.”
“Such questioning can only be
viewed as an improper attempt to challenge Kriegman's
credibility based upon his religious beliefs and such a tactic has no place in
either a civil or a criminal trial,” Rose wrote in calling for a new jury
The decision requiring Andrew
be placed in civil confinement was upheld.
can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.