Monday, March 23, 2009

Threat of Higher Sentence If Trial Meant That Guilty Plea Was Coerced

In People v Flinn (2009 NY Slip Op 02031 [4th Dept 3/20/09]), a defendant contended that his guilty plea was coerced by County Court's statements concerning the potential terms of incarceration in the event that defendant was convicted following a trial. Defendant had failed to raise that contention in support of his motion to withdraw the plea. Nor did he move to vacate the judgment of conviction on that ground. Despite this failure to preserve this issue, the Fourth Department reversed the conviction in the interests of justice. The Court explained
At the plea proceeding, the court stated that it would treat defendant "very differently as far as the sentence is concerned" if he exercised his right to a trial and that his sentence after trial would be "nothing like the sentence that [he] would get if [he] stood up and accepted [his] responsibility." The court further stated that defendant was "going to be sentenced [to] substantially longer than" the agreed-upon term of six years of imprisonment if he exercised his right to a trial. We agree with defendant that the court's statements do not amount to a description of the range of the potential sentences but, rather, they constitute impermissible coercion, "rendering the plea involuntary and requiring its vacatur" (People v Fanini, 222 AD2d 1111; see People v Stevens, 298 AD2d 267, 268, lv dismissed 99 NY2d 585; People v Wilson, 245 AD2d 161, 163, lv denied 91 NY2d 946).

Good work Gary Muldoon.

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