The Case of the Chaotic Courtroom
Markens Antoine, was 30 years old when he shot a 24-year-old man once in the stomach inside a home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was during a tenant dispute. It was on video. Markens ran from the scene and the 24-year-old was taken to Kings County Hospital. He survived. Markens was hunted and captured and then brought to trial before a Brooklyn jury. They quickly found Markens GUILTY.
Markens was shocked. In disbelief he listened as his life went from a downward spiral to a free-fall.
The Jury's Verdict:
THE CLERK: Will the foreperson please rise. In the matter of the People of the State of New York versus Markens Antoine, has the jury agreed upon a unanimous verdict?
THE FOREPERSON: Yes, we have.
THE CLERK: As to count 1, Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, what is your verdict?
THE FOREPERSON: Guilty.
. . .
THE CLERK: As to count 2, Assault in the First Degree, what is your verdict?
THE FOREPERSON: GUILTY.
THE CLERK: As to count 4, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, what is your verdict?
THE FOREPERSON: GUILTY.
THE CLERK: Madam Foreperson, you may be seated. Members of the jury, hear your verdict as it stands recorded. You say you find the defendant guilty of count 1, Attempted Murder in the Second Degree . . ."
Before the clerk could finish speaking and before the jurors could respond, the defendant disrupted the proceeding with the following series of outbursts:
MARKENS: Man, I didn't f@*#ing do it!
JUDGE: Okay, please take the defendant out.
MARKENS: You all get this f@*#ing guilty, I didn't do it!
JUDGE: Please take the defendant out.
MARKENS: They jumped the other guy, he shot him, man.
JUDGE: Please take the defendant out, Officers. Thank you.
JUDGE: Please take the defendant out.
MARKENS: You all got—I didn't do it, man.
JUDGE: Take the defendant out, please.
THE CLERK: Members of the jury, hear your verdict as it stands recorded. You say you find the defendant guilty of count 1, Attempted Murder in the Second Degree; guilty of count 2, Assault in the First Degree; guilty of count 4, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, members of the jury, is this your verdict, and so say you all?
Jurors respond: YES!
THE CLERK: Do the attorneys request a poll of the jury?
[ATTORNEY FOR MARKENS]: Yes, I do."
Time Out - What Does "Poll Of The Jury" Mean?
After the jury has reached their verdict, the clerk will ask the lawyers if they want the jury polled. If the answer is “Yes”, the judge will ask each juror, “is this your verdict?”
Seems like a waste of time; but it’s not. If a juror does not affirm the verdict by answering yes, the attorney will ask the judge to ask the juror follow-up questions:
"Your Honor, if I may? I would like the record to reflect that Juror Number 2 hesitated for ten seconds before answering, which indicated some reluctance on her part to affirm the verdict. I request that your Honor question Juror Number 2 about the reason for her hesitation."
Or you may notice that one of the jurors is giving goo-goo eyes to someone in the courtroom that turns out to be related somehow to one of the witnesses. It is a last chance before the jury is discharged to make sure the jury’s verdict was fair.
Time In - Back To The Markens Trial
The clerk then polled the jurors individually. At some point after his outbursts, Markens was removed from the courtroom. After the jury was discharged, the Supreme Court noted to Markens’s lawyer:
“JUDGE: I want you to confer with your client and advise him that if there's any repetition of what just occurred in this courtroom, I will hold him in criminal contempt and tack on any additional time that I'm allowed to under the C.P.L. and Penal Law. So that was a very disturbing outcry. I immediately wanted to banish him from the courtroom because I just did not think any admonition to him would calm him down at this time.”
The case was over. Markens was taken away to prison.
Markens’s lawyer appealed on the grounds that Markens was deprived of his right to be present at a material stage of the criminal trial.
Argument By Markens' Lawyer
May it please the Court. A criminal defendant's right to be present at all material stages of trial is encompassed within the confrontation clauses of the Federal and State Constitutions and the New York Criminal Procedure Law.
The trial Judge was wrong to remove Markens from the courtroom without first warning him that he would be removed if he continued his disruptive behavior. The Judge's repeated directions to the court officers to remove Markens from the courtroom did not constitute a sufficient warning.
Markens deserves a new trial.
Argument By The Prosecution
Markens forfeited his right to be present during the polling of the jury with his outrageous and disrespectful behavior. Any reasonable person would know that they risked getting kicked out of the courtroom when they star slinging foul language towards a jury in front of a supreme court justice.
A defendant's right to be present during trial is not absolute. Anyone who conducts themself like Markens did, in so disorderly and disruptive a manner that trial cannot be carried on with them in the courtroom, may be removed from the courtroom.
Markens does not deserve a new trial.
Ruling Of The Appeals Court
The Court of Appeals has stated that "it would seem advisable that, where practicable the defendant be warned that his conduct may result in the imposition of court sanctions."
The law requires the court to issue a warning to a disruptive defendant as a condition to the ultimate removal of the defendant from a trial.
Here, the trial court erred in removing the defendant from the courtroom without first warning him that he would be removed if he continued his disruptive behavior.
The requirement that the court issue a warning must be satisfied by the Judge, and not by any inference drawn in the mind of the defendant that his directed removal from the courtroom is, in effect, a warning.
ORDERED that the judgment is reversed, and this case is sent back to the Supreme Court, Kings County, for a new trial.
Markens will get a new trial.
This decision may be frustrating for some. But keep in mind that the Judge only had to give the simplest of warnings: “If you continue this behavior, you will be removed from the courtroom.” That’s it. Markens’s lawyer would have been given an opportunity to explain that Markens was missing out on a very important opportunity to make sure the individual jurors voted the way the verdict indicated.
Anyway, there is a good chance that this case will go up to the Court of Appeals. I will be keeping an eye on this one because it is important. So you may be reading about Markens once again in a future installment of Cup of Joe.
Click HERE to read the full case.