Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NY Appeals Court: Religious Tract Given Defendant By Deputy Sheriff Does Not Lead To Mistrial

In People of the State of New York v. Robles, (NY App. Div., Jan. 16, 2014), a New York intermediate appellate court held that a lengthy colloquy which the trial judge had with defendant charged with burglary and robbery sufficiently protected defendant's right to decide whether or not to testify at trial, despite improper conduct by a deputy sheriff.  As recounted by the court:
As defendant was being transported from the courtroom to the jail at the conclusion of the second day of trial, a deputy sheriff slipped a religious tract [created by Ten-Four Ministries] into defendant's pocket. The document acknowledged defendant's legal right to remain silent, but exhorted him to forgo that right and confess. "Yes, you have the right to remain silent," it stated. "You have the right to remain in your sins. But please don't. Your conscience testifies against you. Confess your sins . . ." or "spend eternity in a prison called hell." When the parties appeared before Supreme Court the following day, defense counsel moved for a mistrial, arguing that the deputy's actions constituted official interference with defendant's decision on whether to testify.
At trial, defendant did not testify, but was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.