People v. James Alcide


Issue before the Court: In a case turning on the credibility and reliability of prosecution witnesses, was it mode-of-proceedings error for the court, with the knowledge of the parties and without their objection, to respond to readback requests from the jury by playing the part of the witness and personally reading back their testimony.

Held: Finding its previous decision in People v. Starling, 85 N.Y.2d 516, controlling the Court found no violation of C.P.L. § 310.30 or People v. O’Rama, as the readback requests were disclosed in their entirety in open court before the judge responded to them. Defense counsel had an opportunity to ask the judge to alter course if he considered the approach prejudicial. Nor was the judge’s participation as a reader in itself a mode-of-proceedings error. Although, as a general matter, courts should shun such engagement, this does not fall into the narrow class of mode-of-proceedings errors, and trial counsel could have brought it to the court’s attention outside the jury’s hearing.

CAL Observes: In this unanimous opinion, the Court adheres to its reluctance to find mode-of-proceedings errors, even when the lower court acts in a disfavored or unorthodox way. Stay tuned for more O’Rama issues before the Court: People v. Jamel Walston, People v. Pamela Hansen, and People v. Julian Silva.