The People Of The State Of N.Y. v. Brown

Decision Date18 February 2010
Citation14 N.Y.3d 113,924 N.E.2d 782
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,v.Homer BROWN, Jr., Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Timothy P. Donaher, Public Defender, Rochester (Janet C. Somes of counsel), for appellant.

Michael C. Green, District Attorney, Rochester (Nicole M. Fantigrossi of counsel), for respondent.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Chief Judge LIPPMAN.

Defendant, under indictment for one count of robbery in the third degree and one count of grand larceny in the fourth degree, was unable to post the $10,000 bail and was held in custody while awaiting prosecution. From the time of his arrest on April 11, 2005 until his June 29, 2005 guilty plea, defendant consistently maintained his innocence and so testified at the grand jury. Shortly after his indictment, the parties learned that defendant's son was in the hospital and in a coma as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. At the outset of the next court appearance, the court informed defendant that a proposed plea bargain would require him to plead guilty to both counts of the indictment in exchange for a 2-to-4-year sentence, and then stated, [y]our 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.

During the ensuing colloquy, the court informed defendant of the rights he was forfeiting by pleading guilty, and confirmed that no threats or promises, other than the promised three-week furlough, had been made to defendant. The court never inquired whether defendant was pleading guilty voluntarily. After defendant admitted to the facts constituting the crimes charged, the court accepted the guilty plea, released defendant on his own recognizance, and ordered defendant to return after the promised furlough.

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. The motion detailed that, while he had been in custody prior to pleading guilty, defendant requested a visit to the hospital to see his child, but jail officials denied the request on the apparently mistaken belief that his son's condition was not serious. Defendant contended 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
...
“I'm not going to allow him to withdraw his plea. He made an allocution before me that he committed this offense ... That was an adequate allocution to the two charges that he plead[ed] guilty to.”

The court then sentenced defendant to the promised 2-to-4-year prison term.

The Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction, concluding defendant's allegations of duress and coercion are belied by the statements of defendant during the plea colloquy, wherein he knowingly and voluntarily admitted that he committed the crimes to which he was pleading guilty” (59 A.D.3d 937, 937-938, 873 N.Y.S.2d 400 [4th Dept.2009] ). A Judge of this Court granted defendant's application for leave to appeal (12 N.Y.3d 814, 881 N.Y.S.2d 22, 908 N.E.2d 930 [2009] ), and we now reverse.

It is well settled that, in order to be valid and enforceable, a guilty plea must be entered voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently ( see People v. Hill, 9 N.Y.3d 189, 191, 849 N.Y.S.2d 13, 879 N.E.2d 152 [2007] ). A guilty plea is voluntary only if it represents an informed choice freely made by defendant among other valid alternatives ( see North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 [1970]; People v. Grant, 61 A.D.3d 177, 182, 873 N.Y.S.2d 355 [2d Dept.2009] ). When a defendant moves to withdraw a guilty plea, the nature and extent of the fact-finding inquiry “rest[s] largely in the discretion of the Judge to whom the motion is made” and a hearing will be granted only in rare instances ( People v. Tinsley, 35 N.Y.2d 926, 927, 365 N.Y.S.2d 161, 324 N.E.2d 544 [1974] ). Where, however, the record raises a legitimate question as to the voluntariness of the plea, an evidentiary hearing is required.

We have not previously considered the voluntariness of a plea conditioned on defendant being granted a brief release to see a seriously ill family member. We have, however, addressed a plea allegedly influenced by concerns for a close relative. In People v. Fiumefreddo, 82 N.Y.2d 536, 605 N.Y.S.2d 671, 626 N.E.2d 646 (1993), defendant moved to withdraw her guilty plea, arguing that it had been coerced because it was connected to the prosecutor's acceptance of a plea bargain...

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1 cases
  • People v. Brown
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 18, 2010
    ...897 N.Y.S.2d 67414 N.Y.3d 113924 N.E.2d 782The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,v.Homer BROWN, Jr., Appellant.Court of Appeals of New York.Feb. 18, 2010.897 N.Y.S.2d 674Timothy P. Donaher, Public Defender, ... ...

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