The People v. Tyrell Cook
Issue before the Court: Whether, after the People have had a full and fair opportunity to meet their burden at the suppression hearing, and the court hears oral argument on the motion, the court has the discretion to reopen the hearing to permit the People to offer additional evidence to fix a deficiency highlighted by the court during oral argument ?
Held: In a 5-2 decision, with the majority opinion written by Judge Garcia, the Court held that decisions to grant or deny a motion to present additional evidence prior to a ruling on the merits are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, and, here, the court’s reopening of the hearing was a permissible exercise of discretion.
CAL Observes: The defense had (valiantly!) argued, that the Court’s decisions in Havelka and Kevin W. collectively held that, once the People have strategically chosen to rest at a suppression hearing, after having had a full and fair opportunity to present their case, they may not reopen to introduce additional evidence, particularly if the court’s comments during oral argument following the close of the hearing identified deficiencies in the People’s proof.
The majority was unable to hold the People to their strategic choices, citing the “critical” truth-seeking function of a suppression hearing, and the strong public policy interest in holding culpable persons responsible for their actions, and protecting legitimate police conduct. The Court all-but dismissed the defense’s concerns with testimony tailored to meet deficiencies identified by the hearing court, and strategic gamesmanship. Rather than impose a bright-line rule, the Court deferred to the suppression court’s discretion, at least where the decision to reopen precedes the suppression court’s formal decision on the merits. While the Court warned that the People would still choose to rest at their peril, because a hearing court’s refusal to reopen would also be subject to the abuse-of-discretion standard, that seems to be an unlikely proposition. Armed with discretion, hearing courts—in the author’s humble opinion—are unlikely to deny motions to reopen by the prosecutor.
In light of the abuse-of-discretion standard, defendants should also argue that, where the People rest, and the suppression court “tips its hand” about perceived weaknesses in the People’s proof, the credibility of any subsequent testimony offered to cure those deficiencies should be viewed with skepticism.