Berger v. New York Case Brief

Facts of the Case

In a state bribery investigation, a recording device was placed in an office by ex parte order of a justice of the New York Supreme Court pursuant to a New York statute authorizing such orders upon oath or affirmation of certain public officials if the judge should satisfy himself of the existence of reasonable grounds for granting an application for such recording. Relevant portions of the recordings thus obtained were received in evidence and played to the jury in a bribery prosecution in the New York Supreme Court, in which the court upheld the statute and the accused was convicted.  On appeal, the state appellate court upheld the validity of a permissive eavesdrop statute, N.Y. Crim. Proc. Code § 813-a.




“If the affidavit is sufficient to establish that the judge in question has a personal bias or prejudice regarding the case, then Section 21 requires that the judge remove himself from the case. Justice Joseph McKenna delivered the opinion of the 6-3 majority. The Court held that the language of Section 21 is clear and unambiguous in stating that the “judge shall proceed no further therein, but another judge shall be designated.” However, the absolutism of that statement is moderated by requirement that the affidavit detailing the relevant personal bias or prejudice allege sufficient facts to support the claim of bias and show that it is more than merely a belief. When a sufficient affidavit is filed under Section 21, it triggers a duty for the judge in question to remove himself from the case, as Judge Landis should have done in this case.Justice William R. Day wrote a dissent in which he argued that Section 21 was not intended to require a judge to remove himself from the case based on the filing of an affidavit sufficient to establish a claim of personal bias. Instead, the duty is only imposed when the affidavit is sufficient to stand up to a challenge. In this case, the affidavit in question was not sufficient to trigger the duty for Judge Landis to remove himself from the case. Justice Mahlon Pitney joined in the dissent. In his separate dissent, Justice James C. McReynolds wrote that Section 21 required an affidavit that alleged personal bias against the particular party to the case in question