People v. Fields

Decision Date15 March 2018
Docket Number17040362
Citation72 N.Y.S.3d 802,59 Misc.3d 817
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Plaintiff v. Teasha FIELDS, Defendant
CourtNew York County Court

People were represented by ADA Taylor Piscionere, Esq., on behalf of Anthony Scarpino, Westchester County District Attorney.

defendant was represented by Ron Stokes, Esq.

Bonnie L. Orden, J.Defendant, Teasha Fields, moves this Court, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law § 220.60 (3), to permit her to withdraw her plea of guilty to Petit Larceny (PL § 155.25). The defendant claims that: she pleaded guilty solely to gain her release from incarceration since she was unable to post bail; she regrets her decision because as a certified substance abuse counselor, a misdemeanor conviction will preclude recertification; and she is innocent. The People oppose the motion and assert that the plea was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered. The Court has thoroughly reviewed the Court file, the recording of defendant's plea allocution,1 the recording of defendant's nighttime arraignment, Defendant's Notice of Motion and Affirmation in Support, and the People's Affirmation and Memorandum of Law in Opposition.

Of the three arguments presented by defendant, the first prong of defendant's argument appears to be a case of first impression considering the breadth of a recent ruling in the Dutchess County Supreme Court in People ex rel. Desgranges v. Anderson, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 28036, 59 Misc.3d 238, 72 N.Y.S.3d 328 (Sup. Ct., Dutchess County 2018). In People ex. rel. Desgranges , the defendant, who was incarcerated for three (3) months on a Petit Larceny (PL § 155.25) charge, brought an Article 7 writ of habeas corpus before the Appellate Division Second Department based on his claim that he was incarcerated due to his inability to post bail. The Appellate Division referred the matter to Judge Rosa of the Dutchess County Supreme Court, for oral arguments and a decision. Since the defendant in Desgranges pleaded guilty and was released from jail the very morning of the hearing, the Court did not rule on the writ, but issued a declaratory judgment.

In a sweeping ruling, the Desgranges Court declared that the failure of an arraignment court to inquire about the defendant's ability to pay the sum of bail set is a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the US Constitution and the NY Constitution. In the instant case, the defendant did not bring a writ, but is challenging her guilty plea by asserting that she took the plea solely because she wanted to end her continued incarceration due to her inability to make bail. In light of the Desgranges decision, this Court must not only look at the voluntariness of defendant's plea of guilty at the time the plea was taken, but also look at the defendant's arraignment to determine whether the defendant's constitutional rights were violated such that the defendant felt impelled to plead guilty to secure her release from jail. If a constitutional violation occurred, must this Court grant the defendant's motion to withdraw her plea of guilty?

For the reasons articulated hereunder, the relief sought is denied.


On April 11, 2017, at approximately 3:40 P.M., Fields entered a Shop Rite located at 955 South Central Avenue, Scarsdale, New York, took one box of Allegra, two boxes of Nexium, and placed these items in her handbag. Defendant then exited the store without paying for the items and was subsequently arrested by the Greenburgh Police. Upon inspection, it was found that defendant lined her handbag with aluminum foil in order to bypass security sensors. The police also found a bag of cocaine on her person and the defendant was charged with Petit Larceny (PL § 155.25); Criminal Possession of an Anti–Security Item (PL § 170.47); and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree (PL § 220.03). Defendant was arraigned the same day and bail was set by the Court in the amount of $10,000.00 bond/$1,500.00 cash.

One week later, on April 18, 2017, Fields, who remained incarcerated, pleaded guilty to Petit Larceny (PL § 155.25) in full satisfaction of the docket, with the advice of her assigned counsel, Mark Fitzmaurice, Esq. Before the plea and allocution began, defense counsel stated on the record that he discussed with Fields that if she pleaded guilty to the "A" Misdemeanor of Petit Larceny, she would lose her NY State Chemical and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) license, which she procured under an alternative to incarceration program. Counsel indicated on the record that his client was thinking over the offer and he was unsure of the defendant's ultimate decision. Fields immediately responded to that statement by stating that she wanted to take the plea. The Court also inquired, before the allocution began, as to whether Fields was sure she wanted to take the plea in light of the representations about the loss of her license. The defendant reaffirmed to the Court that she wanted to take the plea. No bail application was made before the plea and allocution.

Pursuant to the proposed negotiated sentence between the People and Fields, and with the consent of the Court, the defendant was promised a sentence of two-years' probation pending receipt of a Pre–Sentence Investigation Report (PSI) to be conducted by the Probation Department (Probation). During a very detailed allocution, defendant admitted her guilt, indicated that she had sufficient time to speak with her attorney, twice denied that she had been threatened, coerced, or in any way forced to plead guilty, and that her plea was voluntary. Defendant signed, indicated she understood, and discussed with her attorney a waiver of rights to appeal form and a misdemeanor conviction waiver of rights form, both of which were also signed by defense counsel and the Assistant District Attorney. In all regards, the plea and allocution appeared textbook perfect. Following the plea and allocution, defense counsel inquired of the Court as to whether Fields could be released on her own recognizance (ROR). The Court stated "I was going to ask you about that." The People had no objection to ROR and the defendant was released and told to report to Probation so that the PSI would be completed prior to sentencing on July 25, 2017.

On June 5, 2017, as instructed, the defendant reported to Probation and was interviewed. According to the PSI, at the time of her interview, defendant admitted stealing Nexium, but denied stealing Allegra. She indicated that she had recently relapsed by using drugs and alcohol and was "out with friends stealing during the day" (PSI at 9). According to the PSI, defendant only briefly discussed "some" of her extensive prior contacts with the criminal justice system, but did not want to go into detail. She indicated that she has previously lived with various boyfriends, one of whom was murdered in a gang-related incident, and that her federal weapons conviction was a result of trying to sell a weapon in order to raise bail money for a different boyfriend so that he could be released from jail. When the probation officer advised Fields that home visits would be conducted as a condition of her probation, the interview significantly changed. Specifically, Fields indicated that she did not want her mother, with whom she now lives, to be informed of this arrest. She became "visibly upset" (PSI at p 7). Fields indicated that her mother is financially supporting her (PSI at p 8) since she has been unemployed since 2015 (PSI at 8). Fields indicated to the probation officer that "she was going to speak with another attorney," and asked the probation officer if she could get "a different sentence" (PSI at 7). The probation officer indicated that defendant was free to speak to whomever she wanted.

On July 25, 2017, the anticipated date of sentence, Fields failed to appear in Court and defense counsel represented to the Court that Fields did not remember the adjourned date and asked for a few days' adjournment to secure her appearance in court. The case was adjourned to July 28, 2017, at which time Fields appeared and indicated to the Court that she wanted to hire private counsel. Fields requested several adjournments between July 28, 2017 and October 3, 2017 to obtain private counsel, but ultimately Ron Stokes, Esq. was appointed as assigned counsel and Mark Fitzmaurice, Esq. was relieved. On October 30, 2017, defendant's new counsel filed the instant Motion to withdraw the defendant's guilty plea. On December 15, 2017, the People filed their Affirmation in Opposition and a Memorandum of Law. Sometime after January 1, 2018, this matter was re-assigned to the undersigned, as the justice who took the plea was no longer sitting with the Town Court.

I. Involuntary Plea/Duress due to the Inability to Post Bail

It is well established that at any time before the imposition of a sentence, the court in its sound discretion may permit a defendant who has entered a plea of guilty to the entire indictment or to part of the indictment to withdraw such plea (see CPL § 220.60 [3 ]; People v. Alexander , 97 N.Y.2d 482, 743 N.Y.S.2d 45, 769 N.E.2d 802 [2002] ; see also People v. Brown, 14 N.Y.3d 113, 897 N.Y.S.2d 674, 924 N.E.2d 782 [2010] ; People v. Elmendorf , 45 A.D.3d 858, 850, 845 N.Y.S.2d 743, lv denied, 10 N.Y.3d 810, 857 N.Y.S.2d 44, 886 N.E.2d 809 [2007] ). While CPL Article 220 deals with indictments, the salient question concerning the validity of any criminal plea is whether it was entered knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently ( People v. Fiumefreddo , 82 N.Y.2d 536, 605 N.Y.S.2d 671, 626 N.E.2d 646 [1993] ; People v. Frederick , 45 N.Y.2d 520, 526, 410 N.Y.S.2d 555, 382 N.E.2d 1332 [1978] ; People v. De Jesus , 199 A.D.2d 529, 606 N.Y.S.2d 255 [2d Dept. 1993] ). "A defendant will not be heard to challenge his guilty plea when the minutes of the plea are unequivocal" and refute his...

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