People v. Williams
Issue before the Court:
Whether, in response to a jury request for a readback of the “text of the criminal charges and relevant definitions,” a trial court may display the requested material on a “visualizer” in open court without the consent of defense counsel, under CPL 310.30.
In a unanimous decision written by Judge Garcia, the Court found that consent is not required under CPL 310.30 to use a visualizer for a requested readback of relevant criminal statutes in open court. CPL 310.30 authorizes the court to “give” “copies” of statutes to a deliberating jury upon request, but only with the parties’ consent. Here the defense objected to the display of the text to the jury on a visualizer, saying once jurors are handed instructions “in written form, whether it is visually or physically, that they then start having the ability to interpret based on how they see the word, [and] what punctuation may or may not be there....” The Court disagreed, finding that displaying the text on a visualizer was the same as the oral charge, and the trial court here had not abused its discretion.
The Court considered this a matter of statutory interpretation, and looked to the “plain meaning” of the language of CPL 310.30. Dictionary definitions of “giving” have been found by the Court to be synonymous with “furnishing.” But “displaying” is not the same as “giving” or “furnishing.” The Court reasoned that its interpretation is consistent with the statute’s legislative history and with the concern of avoiding the “risks associated with the physical presence of the text in the jury room.” Here, where the requested instruction was given in the presence of counsel in open court and not in the jury room, these risks were “not implicated.” The Court also found that a due process claim related to this issue was unpreserved.
This case serves as a reminder of the precise use of language that takes place in statutory construction. It also represents yet another setback for the defense by this prosecution-leaning Court – albeit with a less common unanimous decision.