A defendant convicted on a weapons possession charge will have a new trial after a Brooklyn appeals panel faulted the trial judge for answering a juror’s questions. “Here, the Supreme Court erred when it received and answered a series of questions from a juror inside the robing room and outside the presence of the defendant, defense counsel, the prosecutor, and the other jurors,” the Appellate Division, Second Department, wrote yesterday in People v. Rivera, 2009-11428.
In the underlying case, Anner Rivera was facing a charge of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon when a juror sent questions to the judge, Brooklyn Acting Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog (See Profile). Among its topics, the juror asked about when Rivera could be held responsible “by the law.” Firetog answered the questions and the jury subsequently convicted Rivera.
But in its unsigned ruling, the panel said Firetog should have given his responses in the presence of Rivera and others. It observed the questions “were not purely ministerial as they directly related to the substantive legal and factual issues of the trial.” Justices Daniel Angiolillo (See Profile), Thomas Dickerson (See Profile), Robert Miller (See Profile) and Sylvia Hinds-Radix (See Profile) sat on the panel. The case was submitted for decision on Dec. 17.