People v. David M. Holz
Decided on May 7, 2020
The People v. Holz
Issue before the Court: Whether the Appellate Division can review on appeal a suppression
ruling that relates exclusively to a count other than that which defendant pleaded guilty to.
Held: Unanimously ruling that it can.
Discussion: Unlike some jurisdictions, New York permits review of a suppression ruling even if
followed by a guilty plea. The relevant statute provides such review “upon an appeal from an
ensuing judgment of conviction notwithstanding the fact that such judgment is entered upon a
plea of guilty.” C.P.L. § 710.70(2). The issue in this case was whether “ensuing judgment”
encompassed just the charge plea to or necessarily included every charge within the accusatory
instrument. Finding no statutory definition, the Court looked to dictionary definitions and
legislative history. It determined that “ensue” means to occur subsequently. Therefore, the
suppression ruling, which only dealt with jewelry taken in a burglary entirely unrelated to the
separately charged (and pled) theft of a laptop, could be reviewed on appeal.
Although finding the claim reviewable, the Court did not review the suppression issue. As the
Appellate Division had not reached the issue, having improperly found the claim unreviewable,
the Court remitted the matter back to the Fourth Department. [On June 12, 2020, the Fourth
Department suppressed the jewelry and vacated the plea.]
CAL observes: Clearly this was the correct decision. Trying to parse the reasons why a
defendant would plead guilty is not generally going to be possible. Here, the defendant was
charged with two equally serious burglaries. After the suppression ruling, he chose to accept a
plea offer to one burglary to cover the entirety of the indictment. The plea itself showed general
confusion as to which burglary he was pleading to; not surprisingly, nobody seemed to focus on
that issue or care.
Practitioners need to recognize two limitations on this ruling. First, it only applies to charges within the same indictment. A different rule applies when there are separate indictments, even if the plea itself explicitly “covers” the other open indictment(s). To avoid that pitfall, a defendant would need to obtain a judicial order consolidating the indictments prior to the guilty plea.
Alternatively, one might try arguing on appeal that the plea was coerced by the erroneous ruling on the separate indictment, if the record both contains the hearing and ruling in the unrelated case and has evidence at the plea showing the relationship between the suppression ruling and the plea.
The second limitation concerns harmless error. The issue confronting the Court dealt only with threshold jurisdictional question. Upon consideration, the Court made clear, an erroneous
suppression ruling could still be harmless vis-a-vis a guilty plea. A guilty plea is harmless when there is no reasonable possibility that the erroneous decision contributed to defendant’s decision to plead guilty. See People v. Grant, 45 N.Y.2d 366, 379 (1978).