NY Court of Appeals: Right to Review Suppression Decision When Decision Relates Solely to a Count Satisfied by Plea but Isn’t Count to Which Defendant Pled
The Court of Appeals of New York held that N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law (“CPL”) 710.70(2) grants a defendant the right to appellate review of a decision on a suppression motion when the decision relates solely to a count that was satisfied by a plea of guilty but was not the count to which the defendant had pleaded guilty.
David M. Holz was indicted on two counts of second-degree burglary. Count One involved the theft of a laptop computer, and Count Two related to stolen jewelry. Holz filed a motion to suppress the jewelry, which the trial court denied. Because Holz had prior convictions, he faced a maximum prison term of 30 years. He entered a plea of guilty to the laptop theft in Count One in satisfaction of the entire indictment in exchange for a sentence of six years of imprisonment, followed by five years of post-release supervision.
Holz appealed, contending that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the jewelry. The Appellate Division affirmed without reaching the merits, holding that “the judgment of conviction on appeal here did not ensue from the denial of the motion to suppress and the latter is, therefore, not reviewable pursuant to CPL 710.70(2).” Holz was granted leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.
The Court observed that CPL 710.70(2) provides that “[a]n order finally denying a motion to suppress evidence may be reviewed upon an appeal from an ensuing judgment of conviction notwithstanding the fact that such judgment is entered upon a plea of guilty.” A governing principle of statutory construction is that courts must attempt “to effectuate the intent of the Legislature, and when the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, it should be construed so as to give effect to the plain meaning of the words used.” People v. Williams, 968 N.E.2d 983 (N.Y. 2012). When a word is not defined in the statute, dictionaries may be used to determine the common, ordinary meaning of the word because lawmakers employ words as they are commonly or ordinarily used. People v. Aleynikov, 104 N.E.3d 687 (N.Y. 2018).
The word “ensue” is not defined in CPL 710.70(2). But according to Oxford English Dictionary online it means: “To occur or arise subsequently,” or it may mean: “To follow as a result.” By choosing to use the word ‘ensuing,’ the Legislature used the broadest of relational terms to convey the connection between the suppression order and the judgment of conviction.
If the legislature had intended to limit appellate review of suppression orders to those orders specifically pertaining to the evidence underlying the count to which the defendant pleaded guilty, it could have easily said so. Matter of Sinker, 678 N.E.2d 454 (N.Y. 1997).
More fundamentally, “the interplay between the evidence and the various related charges in an indictment cannot readily be traced.” Forte v. Supreme Ct. of State of N.Y., 397 N.E.2d 717 (N.Y. 1979). Ruling that an appellate court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear an appeal based on the supposition that an erroneous suppression order related to the evidence in one count could have no effect on the defendant’s decision to plead guilty to another count in the same indictment requires the court to make a “harmless error” determination without examining the merits of the claim. It also ignores the realities of plea bargaining, e.g., defendants often plead guilty to one count simply because it reduces the number of charges and ends the prosecution on multiple counts. But if an appellate court reversed the denial of a motion to suppress the evidence pertaining to those other counts, the defendant may no longer choose to plead guilty, the Court explained.
Finally, the Court’s statutory construction was supported by the legislative history of CPL 710.70(2). In 1962, the Legislature amended former Code of Criminal Procedure § 813-c to provide that: “If the [suppression] motion is denied, the order denying such may be reviewed on appeal from a judgment of conviction notwithstanding the fact that such judgment of conviction is predicated upon a plea of guilty.” There was no narrow causal relationship between the order appealed from and the count to which the defendant pleaded guilty in the former Code of Criminal Procedure nor was one added when the former code was repealed and replaced in 1971 by the current Criminal Procedure Law, the Court stated.
The Court of Appeals concluded the decision of the Appellate Division was in error.
Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision and remitted the case to the Appellate Division with instructions to decide Holz’s appeal on the merits. See: People v. Holz, 2020 N.Y. LEXIS 870 (2020).
Related legal case
People v. Holz
|Cite||2020 N.Y. LEXIS 870 (2020)|
|Level||State Court of Appeals|