People v Guaman
Court Discusses Whether the Judicial Hearing Officer at a Suppression Hearing was Biased
The defendant was charged with two counts of driving while intoxicated DWI and one count of aggravated driving while intoxicated. The defendant requested a suppression hearing to suppress the breathalyzer results. The hearing was presided over by a judicial hearing officer on May 10, 2007. The prosecution presented one witness and closed its case and the defense presented one and rested. The hearing officer credited the prosecution’s witness’s testimony and recommended that the defendant’s request to suppress the breathalyzer results be denied. The defendant informed the People and the officer of his intention to reopen the hearing upon receipt of the missing Rosario material. The case was adjourned to June 14, 2007 for further proceedings.
On July 5, 2007 the defendant requested a de novo suppression hearing on the basis that judicial hearing officer was a biased fact finder. The defense used the conversations which were on record to show that the officer demonstrated bias towards the defendant’s Queens County Criminal Attorney by stating that he usually believed the police officers and that the defense counsel was not very satisfying. The defendant’s Queens County Criminal Lawyer used the conversation to show that there was a tendency to believe the evidence of the police office and resulted in the hearing officer crediting the police officer’s account rather than the defendant’s witness. The defendant further stated that the judge had a personal dislike for the defendant’s counsel which he demonstrated with the aid of the People v Oberoi in which the defense counsel appeared in front of the judge to conduct a pre-trial suppression hearing. According to the transcript the judge prevented the counsel to during cross-examination of the People’s witnesses, from pursuing a line of questioning and did not allow defense counsel to make a record of his objections. The judge denied the motion and stated that if the case was sent back he hoped he would not be the counsel for the defendant.
The court had the power to review the recommendations of the judicial hearing officer who conducted the pre-trial proceedings by accepting, rejecting or modifying the recommendations in whole or in part. The court also had the power to review the conduct of the presiding officer if the proceeding was tainted in manner that offended due process, was unfair or where the results of the trial were doubted. In the instant case the defendant requested for a hearing to start afresh without the judicial hearing officer presiding over the matter albeit that the defendant did not object to the alleged conduct of the officer or move for recusal before the officer.
The recusal of a judicial officer is a matter of conscience and personal to the judge presiding over the matter as it not automatic unless there is a statutory ground for disqualification under Judiciary Law 14. There was no statutory ground for the recusal of the judicial officer in the instant case. The defendant needed to show that the judge’s bias towards the defendant and his counsel affected the outcome of his motion to suppress. The first point of bias was that the judge favor’s the evidence of the police officer rather than the defendant’s witness, however, the record showed that when the judge made his remarks the it was during the course of a hotly contested hearing. The record showed that the judge was fair and impartial and was not skewed in favor and against either party. The evidence was marshaled even handedly without misstatements of the facts in the record. The remark made by the judge that he usually believes the police witnesses over civilian witnesses did not show a predisposition to bias as the defendant’s counsel interpretation of the remarks were misleading. The judge, by examining the evidence simply found that the evidence of the police witness was more credible than that of the defendant’s witness. The judge under section 710.60 of the Criminal Procedure Rules was required to record the findings of fact, its conclusions of law give reasons for his conclusion, which was done by the judge by marshaling the evidence, and finding the police witness credible.
The defendant’s second argument of bias was unfounded. The defendant’s counsel supplied a previous exchange which was insufficient to show that he was bias because he disliked him. In People v Cline, 192 AD2d 957, 959 the appellate court found that although the trial judge had some years earlier informed defense counsel in a prior proceeding “ not to appear before him again,” the defendant had failed to establish that the trial court’s impartiality was compromised.
Therefore, the defendant’s request for a de novo hearing was denied. The defendant may however, renew his request before the judicial hearing officer. The defendant was allowed to reopen the hearing to cross-examine the police officer regarding the command log entries.
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