People v. James Miller

Decided On : 12/22/2016
Issue facing the Court: Whether the trial court abused its discretion in precluding any questioning about the prospective jurors’ abilities to disregard any statements that they concluded were involuntary.
Held: The trial court abused its discretion in prohibiting defense counsel from questioning prospective jurors with respect to their views on involuntary confessions.  This blanket prohibition violated C.P.L. §270.15 which provides that each party will be afforded a fair opportunity to question prospective jurors as to any unexplored matter affecting their qualifications.  
CAL Observes:  This decision is unusual in that the Court recognized that the scope of questioning of prospective jurors lies within the sound discretion of the trial court.  It is rare for an appellate court to find an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.  The Court of Appeals relied on its earlier decision, People v. Steward, 17 N.Y.3d 104 (2011), holding that the imposition of a five minute limitation on questioning violated C.P.L. §270.25.  
The decision here was based on the total preclusion of any mention of the statements evidence which ultimately proved important to the prosecution’s case.  The Court of Appeals recognized that any concerns about speculation regarding the statements could have been cured by the trial judge instructing the jurors that it was not clear whether any statement evidence would be introduced and instructing on the legal standards regarding involuntary statements.  
AD1 order dated November 18, 2014, affirming judgment of conviction.  Decision below: 122 AD3d 492, 996 NYS3d 273.  Adbus-Salaam, J., granted leave July 1, 2015.
ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) Whether the trial court erred in precluding defendant from questioning prospective jurors during voir dire regarding whether they could disregard a confession if they found it to be involuntary, where the People had not yet decided if they would introduce the confession at trial.  (2) Whether defense counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the prosecutor’s summation comments. (Assigned counsel: Richard M. Greenberg, Office of the Appellate Defender, 11 Park Place, Suite 1601, NYC 10007.)

Related Information:
People v Miller