People v. Parker

Decision Date28 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 35, No. 36,35, No. 36
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Lawrence PARKER, Appellant. The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Mark Nonni, Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

32 N.Y.3d 49
109 N.E.3d 1138
84 N.Y.S.3d 838

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
Lawrence PARKER, Appellant.

The People of the State of New York, Respondent,
Mark Nonni, Appellant.

No. 35, No. 36

Court of Appeals of New York.

June 28, 2018

109 N.E.3d 1140
84 N.Y.S.3d 840

Seymour W. James, Jr., The Legal Aid Society, New York City (Lorraine Maddalo of counsel), for Lawrence Parker, appellant.

Robert S. Dean, Center for Appellate Litigation, New York City (Matthew J. Bova of counsel), for Mark Nonni, appellant.

Darcel D. Clark, District Attorney, Bronx (Ryan P. Mansell and Nancy D. Killian of counsel), for respondent.



32 N.Y.3d 52

Defendants Lawrence Parker and Mark Nonni challenge their convictions for robbery in the second degree, based on the trial court's failure to provide counsel with notice of jury requests for information during deliberations and the denial of defendants' motions to suppress evidence recovered forcibly by the police. Defendants' claims that the court should have granted the suppression motions, to the extent preserved, are without merit. Pursuant to our well-established rules as set forth in this Court's seminal decision in People v. O'Rama, 78 N.Y.2d 270, 574 N.Y.S.2d 159, 579 N.E.2d 189 (1991) and its progeny, however, we conclude that, because the record fails to establish that the trial court provided counsel with meaningful notice of the precise contents of two substantive jury notes in discharge of a core obligation under CPL 310.30, a mode of proceedings error occurred and a new trial must be ordered.

I. Suppression Hearing Evidence, Jury Note Record, and Decisions Below

Defendants were indicted and jointly tried for various crimes arising from the violent theft of several thousand dollars at a

32 N.Y.3d 53

commercial establishment. The morning of the crime, defendants gained access to the building under the ruse that they were interested in renting the space for a private event. Once inside, defendants attacked and bound the complainant with duct tape before taking the money.

At defendants' suppression hearing, testimony from the arresting officers established that on January 21, 2008, at approximately 9:30 a.m., the police received a radio transmission about a burglary in progress. Within five minutes, three police vehicles arrived at the address provided by the 911 caller, which turned out to be a country club in a residential neighborhood. The only people the officers observed in the vicinity were defendants, who were walking together on the gated club's private driveway and heading towards the street. As the officers walked towards the driveway with their badges displayed, a uniformed officer ordered defendants to stop. This officer announced that they "were police officers and wanted to ask [defendants] a question." Defendants

84 N.Y.S.3d 841
109 N.E.3d 1141

continued to walk away from the clubhouse, towards the street. The officer again called out, "please, stop, we want to ask you a question." Defendants then took off in opposite directions from one another and away from the police.

Three officers pursued defendant Nonni as he ran up the street. They caught up with and eventually subdued him on the ground. As one of the officers was handcuffing him, a knife sliced through defendant Nonni's backpack and cut the officer's finger. The officers then searched the bag and found two other knives and a roll of duct tape. They also retrieved from defendant Nonni's back-left pocket three bank envelopes, each marked with orange highlighter and each containing $1,000.1

While defendant Nonni ran, defendant Parker "briskly walked" in a "hurried pace" and "evasive’’ manner towards the other side of the street. Two officers followed, and one of them told defendant Parker to stop. As the officer got closer, he could see a sledgehammer in defendant Parker's unzipped backpack. The officer eventually grabbed defendant Parker from behind, handcuffed him, and retrieved a crowbar from his backpack and a small steak knife from the front pocket of his coat.

Based on the evidence at the hearing, the court denied defendants' respective motions to suppress. The court credited

32 N.Y.3d 54

fully the police officers' testimony and found that under People v. De Bour ,40 N.Y.2d 210, 386 N.Y.S.2d 375, 352 N.E.2d 562 (1976) ), the officers initially had a common-law right of inquiry. Defendants' immediate flight evinced more than a desire to be let alone, the court added, thus providing reasonable suspicion that both defendants were involved in a crime, which justified their pursuit, and the search and seizure.

On the morning of the second day of jury deliberations, the jury sent three substantive notes to the court within the span of an hour. The first note, sent at 11:16 a.m., requested definitions of several of the charged crimes as well as testimony related to where defendants were seen and caught; the second note, sent approximately 15 minutes later, requested testimony regarding fingerprint evidence; and the third note, sent 25 minutes later, requested testimony of the complainant and his wife.

The notes were marked into evidence as court exhibits. Outside of the jury's presence, the court stated on the record that it had received those three notes, which it would "be reading into the record after the jury [wa]s seated[,] and [that it was] going to respond to at least one of those notes" at that time. The court continued that it believed counsel agreed upon the sections of the testimony that would be read to the jury in response to the first note. As it turned out, there were open issues and so the court engaged in an on-the-record discussion with counsel as to the contents of the readback. At that time, the court did not read the other notes into the record nor mention whether counsel had seen or discussed those notes.

When the jury returned to the courtroom, the court stated on the record that it had received three notes and would read them back. The court then read the first note and proceeded to read back the requested testimony. At the conclusion of the readback, the court stated, "the additional testimony that you requested in the other two notes, we'll respond to that after lunch." The court also informed the jurors

84 N.Y.S.3d 842
109 N.E.3d 1142

that they could deliberate during lunch.

After that one-hour break, the court announced on the record that the jury had sent a note indicating it had reached a verdict. In response to the court's inquiry, defense counsel and the prosecutor confirmed that they had seen this last note. The court then accepted the verdict on the record in open court.

The Appellate Division affirmed the convictions with two Justices dissenting (

32 N.Y.3d 55

People v. Nonni, 135 A.D.3d 52, 20 N.Y.S.3d 345 [1st Dept. 2015] ). As relevant to the issues presented in this appeal, the majority concluded that the facts surrounding the police encounter, including defendants' flight from the police, justified the police action under De Bour. It also held that the knife protruding from defendant Nonni's backpack and the visible sledgehammer in defendant Parker's bag justified an immediate, protective search of their respective bags and persons ( id. at 58, 20 N.Y.S.3d 345 ). The Appellate Division did not address the O'Rama violation, which was not raised in that Court.

II. The Legality of the Police Stop and Search

Defendant Nonni argues that his mere presence on the commercial property did not provide a founded suspicion of criminal activity, and so the police action in pursuing and stopping him was unlawful at its inception. Defendant Nonni alternatively claims that, even if the initial stop was justified, the searches of his back pocket and the envelopes found therein were unconstitutional and the court should have suppressed the fruits of those searches. Defendant Parker does not contest the lower courts' conclusion that the officers had a common-law right to inquire when they first approached him on the private driveway. Instead, he argues that there is no support for the court's determination that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop and detain him, as he merely briskly walked, rather than ran, away from them.

As a threshold matter, whether the particular circumstances of defendants' cases gave rise to a founded or reasonable suspicion constitutes a mixed question of law and fact, which is beyond our review if there is record support for the courts' conclusion that the officers' actions were justified (see People v. McRay, 51 N.Y.2d 594, 601, 435 N.Y.S.2d 679, 416 N.E.2d 1015 [1980] [a mixed question of law and fact is presented where "facts are disputed, where credibility is at issue or...

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