Notable Decisions and Other News

Decisions

New Trials In Two Cases: Judges Failed to Show Jury Notes to Counsel

August 27, 2014

In Morris, the judge did not read a note requesting a readback of a particular witness’s testimony to the lawyers before reading that note to the jury. When answering the note, the judge decided to only provide a readback of the direct testimony of that witness, omitting the cross-examination.

The Appellate Division held this was erroneous for two reasons:

  1. By failing to read the note to the lawyers without the jury being present, the judge did not comply with the correct procedure for dealing with jury notes. Defense counsel should have had an opportunity to suggest the correct response to the note. Instead, the record did not show defense counsel knew the judge intended to respond to the note by only reading the direct testimony.
  2. The judge’s decision not to read the cross-examination testimony to the jury was not a meaningful response to their note.

In Sydoriak, the judge made the same error in failing to read jury notes to the lawyers outside of the jury’s presence before responding to the notes. In this case, the judge didn’t follow the correct procedure for 3 jury notes. All 3 notes from the jury were open to different interpretations and, again, counsel did not have a chance to suggest the correct response.

The Appellate Division reversed, explaining that defense counsel did not know how the judge would decide to respond to the notes before he did so. 

Alexis Ascher briefed and argued People v. Sydoriak.

Jessica McNamara briefed People v. Morris, which was argued by David Greenberg.