Notable Decisions and Other News

Decisions

Court of Appeals Reverses Second-Degree Murder Conviction

11/24/2014

During Ms. Hanson’s trial, the trial court received two notes from the jury asking questions about the case. When the trial court receives a note, it must follow a specific procedure: it is required to read the note to the attorneys on the record out of the presence of the jury, then read the note to the jury on the record, and finally, respond to the note. In Ms. Hanson’s case, the trial court did not tell the attorneys about these notes and never answered the jury’s questions.

Nonetheless, the Appellate Division upheld the conviction, finding that the record did not show whether or not the trial court actually received the notes.  

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals reversed that decision, concluding that because the jury notes were marked as court exhibits and were in the court file, the record showed that the trial court had received the notes. Because the trial court never told the attorneys about the notes on the record and did not respond to the notes, this was a “mode of proceedings” error, requiring reversal.

Steven Bernhard briefed the case, which was argued by Paul Skip Laisure.