People v. Miller

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New York)
Writing for the CourtDOMINIC R. MASSARO
Citation149 Misc.2d 554,566 N.Y.S.2d 429
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York v. Iran MILLER, Defendant.
Decision Date24 September 1990

Page 429

566 N.Y.S.2d 429
149 Misc.2d 554
The PEOPLE of the State of New York
v.
Iran MILLER, Defendant.
Supreme Court, Bronx County.
Sept. 24, 1990.

Robert T. Johnson, Dist. Atty. by Lisa Dreznick, Asst. Dist. Atty., for people.

Robert Baum and Carol Turner, of counsel, for defendant.

DOMINIC R. MASSARO, Justice.

Iran Miller presents a seldom asked question: whether, after having effectively waived the right to trial by jury and consented to trial by the Court, an accused may withdraw such waiver and reassert his constitutional guarantee. In granting vacatur of the waiver, the Court finds exercise of the right to outweigh any burden placed on the State as a result thereof.

In July, 1989, Mr. Miller was arrested and indicted for [149 Misc.2d 555] felony level drug offenses (criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree [Penal Law, Sec. 220.39] and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree [Penal Law, Sec. 220.16]. At the point of trial, February 5, 1990, he waived his right to a jury; in the alternative, Mr. Miller indicated the desire to proceed before the Court. The appropriate fundamentals of said waiver were observed, and Defendant, in conformance

Page 430

with the Criminal Procedure Law, executed it in writing in furtherance of his election. His trial was then scheduled to commence on the following day. On February 6, defense counsel indicated Mr. Miller's reluctance to proceed, and that he now wished to reassert his constitutional right to trial by jury. The People objected, resting on the effectiveness of the waiver.

The matter was heard on February 7 and 13, 1990. Defendant advanced two reasons for his application: first, changed circumstances; and secondly, that the waiver was not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made.

As for the latter reason, an examination of the record reveals ample clarity to the contrary. The waiver was valid and not in conflict with the law; the argument advanced with respect to otherwise being the case is devoid of merit (see People v. Mettler, 147 A.D.2d 849, 538 N.Y.S.2d 74 [3d Dept., 1989]; People v. Logue, 115 A.D.2d 285, 495 N.Y.S.2d 826 [4th Dept., 1985] app. den. 67 N.Y.2d 886, 501 N.Y.S.2d 1037, 492 N.E.2d 1244 [1986]; People v. Cannady, 127 Misc.2d 783, 487 N.Y.S.2d 294 [1985], aff'd. 138 A.D.2d 616, 526 N.Y.S.2d 202 [2d Dept., 1988], app. den. 71 N.Y.2d 1024, 530 N.Y.S.2d 559, 526 N.E.2d 51 [1988]. As to the first argument, that of changed circumstances, suggesting that Mr. Miller was under the impression that if he proceeded before the bench the trial would have commenced immediately, this is worthy of consideration. His expectation for the afternoon of February 5, 1990, was not entirely unfounded. 1

Fundamental Imperative

The right to trial by jury in a criminal proceeding has long been established as the normal and preferable mode of disposing of issues of fact. A part of the credo of the American legal system, it is a fundamental imperative, sacrosanct in nature [149 Misc.2d 556] and guaranteed by both the Federal and State constitutions (see U.S. Const., Art. III, Sec. 2; U.S. Const., Sixth Amend.; N.Y. Const., Art. I, Sec. 2). Neither document, however, precludes an express waiver thereof, nor does the Court, in the absence of any mandate to the contrary, entertain a doubt that Defendant could rightfully make such a waiver (citations omitted).

Cf. People v. Duchin, 16 A.D.2d 483, 485, 229 N.Y.S.2d 46 (1962), aff'd. 12 N.Y.2d 351, 239 N.Y.S.2d 670, 190 N.E.2d 17 (1963), where some "compelling ground arising out of the attainment of the ends of justice" requires that the request for waiver be denied: e.g., generally, impermissible procedural strategem; see, also, People v. Firestone, 111 A.D.2d 696, 490 N.Y.S.2d 513 (1985); People v. Diaz, 10 A.D.2d 80, 198 N.Y.S.2d 27 (1st Dept., 1960), aff'd. 8 N.Y.2d 1061, 207 N.Y.S.2d 278, 170 N.E.2d 411 (1960).

There is no little amount of uniformity in the decisions of other state courts upholding the constitutionality of positive statutory enactments providing for jury waiver (citations omitted; see, also, Rule 23(a), Fed.Rules of Crim.Proc. 2 ; Singer v. United States, supra ). And while a number of cases hold that in the absence of a textual provision conferring said right, one who is charged with the commission of a felony cannot so waive, there is a noticeable trend

Page 431

in the more recent cases to otherwise recognize it (citations omitted).

It is only relatively recently, however, that this essential element of procedural due process could be waived by a New York defendant. This was statutorily provided for following a constitutional amendment a half century ago. 3

Preserved at Common Law

New York first provided for the right of trial by jury in its [149 Misc.2d 557] fundamental act of legislation (see N.Y. Const., Art. XLI [1777]. The framers of the document were intent upon preserving the right at the common law from English jurisprudence antedating the State Constitution. 4

Throughout English colonial and early American legal history, the right to trial by jury was regarded as a cherished privilege bestowed upon each citizen for the purpose of safeguarding him against oppressive power and arbitrary judgment. "[N]o tyrant could afford to leave a subject's freedom in the hands of twelve of his countrymen" (Devlin, P., Trial by Jury [1956], at 164).

With its basis referenced in Magna Carta (1215), trial by jury finds fuller expression in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the eloquent faith Blackstone placed in it as a check by the people on royal prerogative (see, generally, Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Vol. 4, 1769), and the repeated requests for it during the colonial period: the Stamp Act Congress (1765), 5 the First Continental Congress (1774), 6 the Declaration of Independence (1776), 7 and, ultimately, the United States Constitution (1787).

Of critical importance in the debate to ratify the Constitution was the prosecution of individual rights, and regularly [149 Misc.2d 558] mentioned was the right of trial by jury.

The friends and adversaries [of the Constitution], if they agree on nothing else, concur at least in the value they set upon the trial by jury, or if there is any difference between them it consists in this: The former regard it as a valuable safeguard to liberty; the latter represent it as the very palladium of free government (The Federalist [No. 83, 1788].

In every substantial sense, then, this provision in respect to trial by jury in criminal cases is for the protection of the interests of the accused.

The language of the Federal Constitution, which followed by a decade our own, fortifies this guarantee in the most solemn of terms. That this was the purpose of the

Page 432

Third Article 8 is reinforced by the safeguard expressed in pari materia by the Sixth Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed ..." (see Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540, 8 S.Ct. 1301, 32 L.Ed. 223 [1888].

Two Views

Although New York has addressed the issue but once, holding that refusal to grant an application to withdraw a waiver of a jury trial is not an abuse of discretion (see People v. McQueen, 52 N.Y.2d 1025, 438 N.Y.S.2d 299, 420 N.E.2d 97 [1981], our Court of Appeals did not see fit on that occasion to adopt a rule. Other jurisdictions have given it more consideration.

The minority view allows a criminal defendant to withdraw a jury waiver prior to commencement of trial as a matter of right, the denial of which is justified only upon a showing of substantial prejudice to the prosecution or the obstruction of justice (see Brumbalow v. State, 128 Ga.App. 581, 197 S.E.2d 380 [1973]; State v. Grimsley, 3 Ohio App.3d 265, 444 N.E.2d 1071 [1982]; Commonwealth v. Wright, 362 Pa.Super. 464, 524 A.2d 970 [1987]; Collins v. State, 642 S.W.2d 80 [Tex.App., 1982].

The majority view, on the other hand, holds that the application is addressed to the trial court's sound discretion, the exercise of which involves weighing the facts and circumstance of each particular case (see United States v. Clapps, 732 F.2d 1148 [3d Cir., 1984]; United States v. Holmen, 586 F.2d [149 Misc.2d 559] 322 [4th Cir., 1978]; United States v. Alpern, 564 F.2d 755 [7th Cir., 1977]; United States v. Wright, 491 F.2d 942 [6th Cir., 1974]; United States v. Holt, 333 F.2d 455 [2d Cir., 1964], cert. den. 380 U.S. 942, 85 S.Ct. 1020, 13 L.Ed.2d 961 [1965]; Hall v. United States, 330 F.2d 558 [5th Cir., 1964], cert. den. 380 U.S. 942, 85 S.Ct. 1021, 13 L.Ed.2d 962 [1965]; Sparks v. United States, 358 A.2d 307 [D.C.App., 1976]; Scates v. State, 244 Ark. 333, 424 S.W.2d 876 [1968]; People v. Kipnis, 5 Cal.App.3d 980, 85 Cal.Rptr. 547 [1970]; Garcia v. People, 200 Colo. 413, 615 P.2d 698 [1980]; State v. Biller, 33 Conn.Sup. 735, 369 A.2d 1123 [1976]; Young v. State, 407 A.2d 517 [Del., 1979]; Cochran v. State, 383 So.2d 968 [Fla., 1980]; Leggett v. State, 184 Ga.App. 398, 361 S.E.2d 546 [1987]; Jones v. State, 518 N.E.2d 479 [Ind., 1988]; State v. Daigle, 220 Kan. 639, 556 P.2d 400 [1976]; State v. Toomer, 395 So.2d...

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13 practice notes
  • Mackovska v. Viewcrest Rd. Props. LLC, B288778
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 17, 2019
    ...had the option of denying the writ and waiting to see whether she prevailed at trial."]; see also People v. Miller (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1990) 149 Misc.2d 554, 561, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 ["The historic background of constitutional provisions establishing the jury mode of 40 Cal.App.5th 17 trial would a......
  • Marquez v. State, 1023-94
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • April 3, 1996
    ...v. State, 284 Md. 22, 394 A.2d 292, 294 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 906, 99 S.Ct. 1996, 60 L.Ed.2d 375 (1979). People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429, 432 (N.Y.Super.Ct.1990). Sutton v. State, 163 Neb. 524, 80 N.W.2d 475, 476 (1957). State v. Villareall, 57 Or.App. 292, 644 ......
  • Sinistaj v. Burt, 93-CV-70618-DT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • August 18, 1994
    ...(recognizing that waiver should be strictly construed in favor of preservation of the sacred right to a jury trial); People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 (1990) (stating that an objective evaluation of the surrounding facts and circumstances is essential in permitting a Defen......
  • Com. v. Dowling, 101 MAP 2007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2008
    ...discretion in considering requests to withdraw jury trial waivers regardless of the case's procedural posture. See People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 (1990) (trial court opinion collecting cases involving states which allow a trial court to exercise discretion in addressing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Mackovska v. Viewcrest Rd. Props. LLC, B288778
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 17, 2019
    ...had the option of denying the writ and waiting to see whether she prevailed at trial."]; see also People v. Miller (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1990) 149 Misc.2d 554, 561, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 ["The historic background of constitutional provisions establishing the jury mode of 40 Cal.App.5th 17 trial would a......
  • Marquez v. State, 1023-94
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • April 3, 1996
    ...v. State, 284 Md. 22, 394 A.2d 292, 294 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 906, 99 S.Ct. 1996, 60 L.Ed.2d 375 (1979). People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429, 432 (N.Y.Super.Ct.1990). Sutton v. State, 163 Neb. 524, 80 N.W.2d 475, 476 (1957). State v. Villareall, 57 Or.App. 292, 644 ......
  • Sinistaj v. Burt, 93-CV-70618-DT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • August 18, 1994
    ...(recognizing that waiver should be strictly construed in favor of preservation of the sacred right to a jury trial); People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 (1990) (stating that an objective evaluation of the surrounding facts and circumstances is essential in permitting a Defen......
  • Com. v. Dowling, 101 MAP 2007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2008
    ...discretion in considering requests to withdraw jury trial waivers regardless of the case's procedural posture. See People v. Miller, 149 Misc.2d 554, 566 N.Y.S.2d 429 (1990) (trial court opinion collecting cases involving states which allow a trial court to exercise discretion in addressing......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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