People v. Wiggins

Decision Date06 October 2016
Citation39 N.Y.S.3d 395,2016 N.Y. Slip Op. 06538,143 A.D.3d 451
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Reginald WIGGINS, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Robert S. Dean, Center for Appellate Litigation, New York (Ben A. Schatz of counsel), for appellant.

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney, New York (Sabrina Margret Bierer of counsel), for respondent.


Judgment, Supreme Court, New York County (Ronald A. Zweibel, J.), rendered October 7, 2014, convicting defendant, upon his plea of guilty, of manslaughter in the first degree, and sentencing him to a term of 12 years, modified, on the law, to the extent of reducing the amounts of the mandatory surcharge and the crime victim assistance fees from $300 to $250 and $25 to $20, respectively, and otherwise affirmed.

Because of the unusual facts of this case, a detailed chronology is necessary to put our analysis into proper context.

On May 24, 2008, at approximately 1:00 a.m., defendant and codefendant Jamal Armstead were outside 133 West 90th Street in Manhattan where a sweet sixteen party was ending. They were approached by a female partygoer who told them that a person named Trimel Branford had insulted her at the party. Defendant and Armstead then proceeded to confront Branford. Intending to “ avenge” the slight to her, Armstead pointed a gun at Branford and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun misfired. Armstead handed the gun to defendant who, after hitting it with his hand, pointed it at Branford and fired. The shot missed Branford but struck a 15–year–old bystander, who died from his wounds later that morning.

On May 28, 2008, the police arrested both Armstead and defendant. Armstead made statements to the police that implicated defendant in the shooting.

On July 2, 2008, both defendant and Armstead were charged, in a single indictment, with murder in the second degree, attempted murder in the second degree (two counts) and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. They were arraigned on these charges on July 7, 2008.

Defendant filed an omnibus motion on August 26, 2008, seeking, among other relief, severance of his case from Armstead's on the ground that they had antagonistic defenses and that Armstead's statements ran afoul of defendant's right to confrontation under Bruton v. United States , 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968). The People responded to the motion on October 15 and, on October 23, 2008, the motion court denied defendant's request to sever on antagonistic defense grounds, finding that defendant had not made any allegations demonstrating an antagonistic defense. The motion to sever on Bruton grounds was held in abeyance until resolution of Armstead's motion to suppress his statements. The court adjourned the case for discovery until March 2, 2009, because defendant was awaiting receipt of the medical examiner's report.

From March 2, 2009 to August 28, 2012, the date the court ruled on the admissibility of Armstead's statements, the court adjourned the case numerous times either at the request of, or on consent of, defendant or Armstead. Additionally, between January 9, 2009 and June 30, 2011, Armstead consented to numerous adjournments requested by the People as the prosecutor attempted to negotiate a cooperation agreement with his counsel, meeting with Armstead and his counsel on several occasions.1

On June 24, 2011, Armstead moved pro se for assignment of new counsel, which application was granted on July 14, 2011.

Armstead's case was adjourned from March 2, 2010 to March 16, 2010 due to a fire in the courthouse. On September 21, 2010, the assigned ADA went on maternity leave, resulting in an adjournment to November 18, 2010. From July 14, 2011 until May 29, 2012, every adjournment was requested by Armstead's counsel, either to prepare for trial or for personal reasons.

On July 21, 2011, the People announced their readiness for trial with respect to Armstead. It was the People's intention to try Armstead first, on the theory that a conviction would give Armstead the incentive to testify against defendant. Armstead's counsel was not ready for trial until May 29, 2012.

During this period, and while the current action was pending, defendant was involved in two assaults resulting in two additional indictments. The first, charging defendant with conspiracy and gang assault, was handed down on April 1, 2009 and was pending until March 8, 2013, when the indictment was dismissed. The second incident occurred on October 5, 2011 at the Manhattan Detention Center, where defendant and two other men assaulted another inmate. This indictment charged defendant with attempted gang assault in the first degree, attempted assault in the first degree and assault in the second degree. Defendant was convicted after trial of assault in the second degree and on June 10, 2013, was sentenced to a prison term of 4 ½ years.

Between May 29 and June 12, 2012, a Huntley hearing was held with respect to the statements made by Armstead to the police. Armstead's motion to suppress those statements was denied on August 28, 2012. At the conclusion of the hearing, Armstead's counsel advised the court that he needed emergency cataract surgery and requested an adjournment. The People opposed further adjournments, noting the effect further adjournments might have on defendant's case. Defendant joined in the People's objection but the court granted Armstead's request for an adjournment.

On October 9, 2012, Armstead's first trial began and a partial verdict convicting him of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree was rendered on October 25, 2012. Due to Hurricane Sandy, the court could not reconvene until November 7, 2012. Only 11 jurors returned and the court declared a mistrial on the remaining counts. The People informed the court that they intended to retry Armstead before trying defendant. Armstead's counsel requested and received an adjournment to April 2013. On January 14, 2013, defendant, at his request, was assigned new counsel and his case was adjourned to February 14, 2013, so that new counsel could familiarize himself with the case.

On April 22, 2013, Armstead's second trial began. On the same day, defendant's unrelated gang assault trial also commenced. On May 15, 2013, Armstead's second trial ended in a mistrial. The People immediately announced their readiness and requested a second retrial. However, Armstead's counsel was not available to proceed until January 2014.

On May 7, 2013, defendant moved, for the first time, to dismiss the indictment on constitutional speedy trial grounds, which motion was denied on December 5, 2013.

On January 8, 2014, Armstead's third trial began. It ended on January 31, 2013 when the jury acquitted him of murder in the second degree but could not reach a verdict on the two attempted murder counts, resulting in yet another mistrial as to those counts. On April 10, 2014, Armstead's fourth trial was scheduled to begin on August 21, 2014. On June 11, 2014, defendant filed a second constitutional speedy trial motion, which he subsequently withdrew as part of his plea bargain.

Defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree on September 23, 2014 in full satisfaction of the indictment. He was promised a sentence of 12 years to run nunc pro tunc from the date of his arrest and concurrent with the 4 ½ year sentence he was currently serving on the conviction for assault in the second degree. The agreed upon sentence was imposed on October 7, 2014.

The lodestar guiding our analysis of the speedy trial issue raised in this case is, of course, People v. Taranovich , 37 N.Y.2d 442, 373 N.Y.S.2d 79, 335 N.E.2d 303 (1975). The Court held that “there is no specific temporal duration” that would mandate a dismissal on speedy trial grounds (id. at 444–445, 373 N.Y.S.2d 79, 335 N.E.2d 303 ). Rather, a court must “examine the claim in light of the particular factors” present in the case before it, with the realization that “there are no clear cut answers in such an inquiry” (id. at 444–445, 373 N.Y.S.2d 79, 335 N.E.2d 303 ). The analysis involves “a sensitive weighing process of the diversified factors present in the particular case” (id. ). These factors “must be evaluated on an ad hoc basis” as they apply to the facts of each case (id. ). Finally, the Court stressed that “no one factor or combination of the factors ... is necessarily decisive or determinative of the speedy trial claim, but rather the particular case must be considered in light of all the factors as they apply to it” (id. ).

The Court went on to list five factors that must be considered in any analysis of a speedy trial claim: (1) the extent of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the nature of the underlying charge; (4) whether or not there has been an extended period of pretrial incarceration; and (5) whether or not there is any indication that the defense has been impaired by reason of the delay” (id. ).

There is no question that the six-year delay between the shooting in 2008 and defendant's guilty plea in 2014 was “extraordinary” (People v. Staley, 41 N.Y.2d 789, 792, 396 N.Y.S.2d 339, 364 N.E.2d 1111 [1977] ). The burden is on the People to show good cause for the delay (People v. Singer, 44 N.Y.2d 241, 254, 405 N.Y.S.2d 17, 376 N.E.2d 179 [1978] ). This factor weighs in favor of defendant and leads to a consideration of the second Taranovich factor, i.e., the reason for the delay.

The chronology of this case highlights some of the problems faced by the courts of this state in large metropolitan areas. These include overburdened courts, overcrowded jails, and overworked prosecutors and legal services defense counsel. Nevertheless, these issues must be considered in the context of this particular case as they affect, if at all, this particular defendant.

The dissent tends to minimize the defense side of the equation in...

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6 cases
  • People v. Wiggins
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 15, 2018
    ...Division held, in a 3–2 decision, that defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated ( People v. Wiggins, 143 A.D.3d 451, 39 N.Y.S.3d 395 [1st Dept. 2016] ). One of the dissenting Justices granted defendant leave to appeal to this Court ( 28 N.Y.3d 1152, 52 N.Y.S.3d 30......
  • Carney v. Carney
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court
    • November 10, 2016 his own documents—applications and resumes, information from government-related employment websites. People v. Wiggins, 143 A.D.3d 451, 39 N.Y.S.3d 395 (1st Dept.2016). However, the admission of second-hand testimony from employers or his doctorate mentor, offered verbally to the defenda......
  • State v. Keith F.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • April 27, 2017
    ...12, 2014 and 2015. The delays for which respondent is responsible are not chargeable to petitioner (see e.g. People v. Wiggins, 143 A.D.3d 451, 455, 39 N.Y.S.3d 395 [1st Dept.2016], lv. granted 28 N.Y.3d 1152, 49 N.Y.S.3d 64, 71 N.E.3d 555 [2017] ). An additional six weeks of delay, based u......
  • Ford v. A.O. Smith Water Prods., 9721-9722
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • June 25, 2019
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