Friday, March 20, 2009

Judge's Promise of Harsher Sentence After Trial Coerced Plea

In People v. Gunther Flinn, the defendant pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the second degree. During his plea, the judge said that if Mr. Flinn was convicted after trial, he would a be treated "very differently as far as the sentence is concerned" if he exercised his right to a trial and that his sentence after trial would be "nothing like the sentence that [he] would get if [he] stood up and accepted [his] responsibility." The judge further said that after trial Mr. Flinn would be sentenced to "substantially longer than" the sentence he would receive after a plea.

Although Mr. Flinn did not seek to withdraw his plea before the lower court, the Fourth Department addressed the issue of his entitlement to withdrawal in the interests of justice and vacated the plea by stating:
"the court's statements do not amount to a description of the range of the potential sentences but, rather, they constitute impermissible coercion, "rendering the plea involuntary and requiring its vacatur" (People v Fanini, 222 AD2d 1111; see People v Stevens, 298 AD2d 267, 268, lv dismissed 99 NY2d 585; People v Wilson, 245 AD2d 161, 163, lv denied 91 NY2d 946)."