Saturday, February 20, 2010

King Solomon and Guilty Pleas

Mr. Brown (_ NY3d __, 2010 NY Slip Op 01376 [2/18/10]) was in jail while awaiting prosecution on a robbery charge. From the moment of arrest he consistently proclaimed his innocence. Then the defendant's son was in the hospital and in a coma as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. Jail officials deny the man’s request for permission to go hospital to see his child. At the next court appearance, the court informed of the terms of the proposed plea bargain. The court then states

your attorney told me [that] you were interested in taking the plea if I were to give you a furlough for three weeks to allow you to see your sick child," who was still in the hospital. Defendant responded in the affirmative, and the court agreed to the furlough, warning defendant that if he did not appear on the scheduled date, he would receive an increased sentence.

After surrendering himself on the scheduled date, and prior to the imposition of sentence, defendant moved to withdraw his plea on the ground that it had not been entered into voluntarily
Defendant contends that he

entered the guilty plea "under conditions of duress" and "as a result of emotional and mental distress caused by his fear of his son's death." He further claimed that he "never would have entered into a guilty plea if his son had not been shot and lapsed into a coma." The court denied the motion without a hearing, stating, "I made it clear to [defendant] when he plead[ed] guilty that he wasn't going to withdraw his plea.

Is a guilty plea motivated by a parent's love for his child voluntary, even if the colloquy is truthful?

The Court of Appeals reversed this conviction, holding that since the record raises a legitimate question as to the voluntariness of the plea, an evidentiary hearing is required. The Court distinguished People v Fiumefreddo (82 NY2d 536 [1993]) because, unlike Fiumefreddo, here the specific terms of this plea were not subject to extended discussion nor did defendant have sufficient time to consider the alternatives to taking it. Further, the court never inquired about the impact the promised furlough had on defendant's decision to plead guilty or indeed whether defendant was pleading guilty voluntarily.

Apparently New York expects its judges to recall the judgment of King Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28) in determining the voluntariness of a plea.

Excellent work by Mr. Brown’s counsel, Janet Somes.

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