Court Decision: Murder Conviction Reversed and New Trial Ordered Before a Different Judge

Appellate Division, Second Department: People v. Scott

Murder Conviction Reversed and New Trial Ordered Before a Different Judge

In 2017, Mr. Scott was charged in an indictment with murder and related offenses. In December 2018, Mr. Scott notified the trial judge in writing that there had been no conferences or meetings with his assigned counsel, there had been a complete breakdown in communication between himself and his lawyer, the omnibus motion filed by his attorney contained a number of factual inaccuracies, and his attorney had failed to appear in court on several dates. Mr. Scott further requested a six-week adjournment to secure legal representation from a different attorney who had purportedly agreed to represent him.

In January 2019, the trial judge summarily denied the request without making any inquiry. Five months later, Mr. Scott read a lengthy statement in court, repeating his assertions and reiterating his desire to have different counsel. Mr. Scott was subsequently convicted by a jury.

The Appellate Division reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial before a different trial judge. The Court recognized that a judge has a duty to consider a motion to substitute counsel and at least make a minimal inquiry when the request is “seemingly serious.” In this case, the trial judge not only failed to do so, but also improperly told Mr. Scott his only alternative option was to represent himself pro se. Accordingly, the murder conviction was reversed and a new trial ordered.

Yvonne Shivers represented Mr. Scott