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NY Court of Appeals Holds Trial Court’s Failure to Advise Defense of Jury Note Contents Constitutes Reversible Error

by Dale Chappell

The Court of Appeals of New York held that a trial court’s failure to make the defendant aware of the content of notes by the jury to the court was error requiring reversal, even though the issue was raised for the first time on appeal.

During the joint trial of Lawrence Parker and Mark Nonni for crimes related to burglary, the jury sent three substantive notes to the court, requesting specific information about the case. When everyone reconvened in court, the judge raised the issue of the three notes and said the court would address each one in turn. After resolving the first note, the court broke for lunch and said it would address the other notes after lunch. The jury, however, reached a verdict during lunch, ending the trial. The two remaining notes were never mentioned.

After the Appellate Division affirmed their convictions, Parker and Nonni were granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.

Raised for the first time before the Court of Appeals, Parker and Nonni argued that the trial court’s failure to provide them with notice of the content of the other notes amounted to a mode of proceedings error requiring reversal of the convictions and a new trial. The Court agreed.

CPL 310.30 requires that a court must make the defense aware, with the jury present in open court, as to “any matter pertinent to the jury’s consideration of the case.” The court must provide counsel with “meaningful notice” of the content of the jury’s notes and a meaningful response to the jury with counsel’s input. People v. Mack, 55 N.E.3d 1041 (N.Y. 2016). “Meaningful notice” means to be made aware of the “specific content of the jurors’ request.” Id. Any failure to follow these procedures requires reversal on appeal, even if not preserved below for an appeal. Id.

The record here is silent on whether defense counsel were made aware of the contents of the notes left unresolved, the Court said. While the State argued that the record inferred that counsel was made aware in an off-the-record proceeding, the Court of Appeals said a court “cannot assume that the omission was remedied” by the supposed proceeding. “An insufficient record cannot be overcome with speculation about what might have occurred.” The Court also rejected that remitting to the trial court would cure the error. Doing so “would imperil” the court’s core responsibility: Providing counsel with notice of the precise contents of the jury note so that counsel may participate in the response to the jury.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s failure to make counsel for Parker and Nonni aware of the contents of the jury’s notes that were “pertinent to the jury’s consideration of the case” was reversible error.

Accordingly, the Court directed that “the Appellate Division order should be reversed and a new trial ordered.” See: People v. Parker, 2018 NY Slip Op 04776 (2018). 

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People v. Parker




 

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