The Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, Second Department reversed a gun conviction and dismissed the accusatory instrument because of insufficient evidence and an involuntary guilty plea.
Defendant David Flores was charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and third-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument in Southeast Town Court (Putnam County). Under the terms of a plea agreement, Flores pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Flores’ appeals attorney submitted a brief claiming that the accusatory instrument was facially insufficient and that defendant’s plea was involuntary because the town justice failed to ensure that Flores was made aware that he was waiving his Boykin rights by pleading guilty and failed to inform Flores of the possible immigration consequences of his criminal guilty plea.
The 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case of Boykin v. Alabama prohibits compulsory self-incrimination, and provides the right to a jury trial and the right to confront accusers. A defendant who enters a guilty plea simultaneously waives several constitutional rights, including the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, the right to trial by jury, and the right to confront his or her accusers. For this waiver to be valid under the Due Process Clause, it must be an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege. Consequently, if a defendant’s guilty plea is not equally voluntary and knowing, it has been obtained in violation of due process and is therefore void. Moreover, because a guilty plea is an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge, it cannot be truly voluntary unless the defendant possesses an understanding of the law in relation to the facts.
The accusatory instrument charging Flores with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon accused him of possessing an imitation pistol “with intent to use the same unlawfully against another”. The Appellate Division noted that the deputy sheriff who charged Flores “only observed the imitation pistol ‘holstered on (Flores’) side,’ hardly an allegation of planned unlawful use, as illustrated by the apparent inability of the deputy sheriff to suss out what defendant’s unlawful intent was.” Therefore, the court ruled: “We find that the conclusory allegation of unlawful intent renders the charge insufficiently alleged, requiring reversal of defendant’s conviction and dismissal of the accusatory instrument.”
If you are charged with criminal possession of a weapon, call the experienced Rochester Criminal Defense attorneys at Friedman & Ranzenhofer, PC at (585) 484-7432.