Forgery conviction kicked back to Queens court because judge did not explain his decisions

THE SECOND DEPARTMENT APPELLATE DIVISION.  EAGLE  PHOTO BY ROB ABRUZZESE

THE SECOND DEPARTMENT APPELLATE DIVISION. EAGLE PHOTO BY ROB ABRUZZESE

 By David Brand

A state appeals court sent a 2017 forgery conviction back to Queens Supreme Court last month, ruling that the judge presiding at preliminary hearings did not explain why he allowed certain pieces of evidence to be used against the defendant.

Shymeek Harris pleaded guilty in April 2017 to second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument after police arrested him for allegedly possessing counterfeit and stolen credit cards. 

During a suppression hearing, where defendants can challenge evidence that prosecutors attempt to use against them, Harris’ lawyer argued that several credit cards found on Harris and in his car, as well as a statement that Harris gave to police, should be inadmissible.

Justice Ronald Hollie, the judge presiding at the suppression hearing, disagreed. Hollie ruled that the evidence was valid, prompting Harris to take a plea deal rather than proceed to trial.  

But Hollie never explained his suppression hearing decision and “did not make any credibility determinations or factual findings” on the record, the four appellate judges wrote. They could not rule on an appeal until a Queens Supreme Court judge explained the evidentiary decision, the judges continued. 

Harris also argued that the police officers who testified at the hearing “were not credible, as their testimony was contrived, contradictory, vague, and incomplete.”

The Queens DA’s Office contended that the case should never have entered the appeal process in the first place because Harris waived his right to appeal as part of his plea agreement to four years of probation.

The appellate judges concluded, however, that Hollie did not appropriately explain the waiver and, thus, Harris “did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his right to appeal.”

The Second Department has reversed Hollie’s decisions and rebuked his behavior at least five times since 2017, including a decision in a murder case last month, the Daily News reported.

A spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration addressed the Second Department decision in a statement, saying the judges “disagreed with Justice Hollie’s suppression ruling regarding whether the District Attorney met their burden of showing that the police properly arrested the defendant.”