Defendants convicted of weapon possession and conspiracy charges will get a new trial after the Appellate Division, Second Department, said missing content in a trial judge’s comments to jurors made for reversible error. During deliberations for four defendants in a 2011 trial, the jury sent several notes to Queens Supreme Court Justice Daniel Lewis (See Profile). One note sought “clarification on the counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.”
In front of the defendants, counsel and the jurors, Lewis said the note asked “to have read to us the counts” of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. He gave instructions regarding those counts and the jury found the four guilty of four counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and fourth-degree conspiracy.
In ordering a new trial, the panel noted Wednesday that Lewis left out the word “clarification” when discussing the note. “The jury’s request for ‘clarification’ was not a request for a ‘mere ministerial readback’ of the Supreme Court’s charge. Meaningful notice of a jury’s note ‘means notice of the actual specific content of the jurors’ request. Manifestly, counsel cannot participate effectively or adequately protect the defendant’s rights if this specific information is not given,’” the panel wrote in People v. Thomas, 2011-04178.
Justices Reinaldo Rivera (See Profile), Ruth Balkin (See Profile), Sylvia Hinds-Radix (See Profile) and Joseph Maltese (See Profile) decided the appeal, along with People v. Fields, 2011-04474, People v. McCoy, 2011-04433 and People v. Brown, 2011-04418.