People v. Mendez
Issue Before the Court:
Whether the jury notes were “substantive inquiries” that required the judge to follow the procedures mandated by CPL § 310.30 for responding to jury notes (see People v. O’Rama, 78 N.Y.2d 270 (1991)).
The jury’s request to see English translations that had been previously provided as an aid to the jury’s understanding of Spanish recordings, was “substantive” and the record’s failure to indicate that the judge revealed the jury note to the attorneys or ever answered the note was a mode-of-proceedings error. The request to see the transcripts “did not merely require ‘the ministerial actions of informing the jury that none of the items they requested were in evidence,’” as held by the Appellate Division.
The Court reversed Mendez without oral argument, relying on last year’s decision, Silva, 24 N.Y.3d 294. Soon afterwards, the First Department reversed the conviction in People v. Lane, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 08771 (decided December 1, 2015), a case that had been argued, more than a year earlier, in November 2014, and was apparently held for Court of Appeals’ guidance. Lane is also a case of a jury note being found to be “substantive,” so the judge erred in simply paraphrasing the note before providing an answer for the jurors. Without a verbatim reading of the note into the record, the judge’s failure to follow the O’Rama procedure mandated reversal despite counsel’s failure to object.