Friday, January 06, 2012

DWI Law- Cheap DWI Lawyer's Client Allowed to Vacate Jail Sentence and Plea

What happens when a client comes to you after he has already hired another lawyer, and has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced? Most attorneys will turn that person away, and for good reasons. However, there may be another avenue available. In People v. Rivera, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2012 WL 17681 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.), 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 00043, the defendant hired a second attorney to vacate the plea, and the trial court agreed. On appeal, the court affirmed, writing:

"The record supports the court's conclusion, made after a thorough evidentiary hearing, that defendant did not receive meaningful representation. “In the context of a guilty plea, a defendant has been afforded meaningful representation when he or she receives an advantageous plea and nothing in the record casts doubt on the apparent effectiveness of counsel” ( People v. Ford, 86 N.Y.2d 397, 404 [1995] ).

"Defense counsel failed to conduct any investigation, make any motions, or even view the video of defendant's breathalyzer test before negotiating a plea bargain whereby defendant would plead guilty to the top count of the accusatory instrument. There were lines of defense that were at least worthy of investigation, including matters that could have affected the accuracy of the breathalyzer results. The attorney's testimony established that there were no strategic reasons for these omissions.

"The hearing evidence also established that since defendant had no prior record and no accident occurred, it was extremely unlikely that defendant would receive a jail sentence. Accordingly, defendant received little, if any benefit, by pleading guilty to the top count without ever having received even a minimally accurate assessment of the strength of the People's case."

The appeals court unanimously affirmed the motion to vacate the plea. 

Editor's note: This case should serve as a warning to cheap-priced 'dumptruck' lawyers that fail to perform an adequate investigation prior to disposing of a case, that such conduct might fall below the standards of practice in their community.

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