The Second Department, ordering a new trial, determined the trial judge assumed the role of the prosecutor in eliciting crucial identification testimony:
“While neither the nature of our adversary system nor the constitutional requirement of a fair trial preclude a trial court from assuming an active role in the truth-seeking process,’ the court’s discretion in this area is not unfettered” … . The principle restraining the court’s discretion is that a trial judge’s “function is to protect the record, not to make it” … . Accordingly, while a trial judge may intervene in a trial to clarify confusing testimony and facilitate the orderly and expeditious progress of the trial, the court may not take on “the function or appearance of an advocate” … .
Here, the record demonstrates that after the two complainants, in response to questions by the prosecutor, were unable to positively identify the defendant as the perpetrator of the robbery, the Supreme Court improperly assumed the appearance or the function of an advocate by questioning the complainants until it elicited a positive in-court identification of the defendant from each of them … . Under these circumstances, the court’s decision to elicit such testimony was an improper exercise of discretion and deprived the defendant of a fair trial. People v Mitchell, 2020 NY Slip Op 03541, Second Dept 6-24-20