New York State Court of Appeals
Right To Counsel — Intertwined with the Integrity of the Process
People v. Griffin
Background: The people appealed an order of the Appellate Division concluding that the trial court improperly discharged the defendant’s counsel. The people argue that the defendant’s claim is forfeited by his guilty plea and the court properly removed the Legal Aid Society. The defendant was charged with robbery and attempted robbery and the five-month period after the defendant’s arraignment was marked by multiple adjournments over the course of 15 appearances for numerous reasons including pre-trial motions, requests for additional time and the reassignment of an ADA for lack of preparation as he had yet to meet with all the witnesses. Defense counsel informed the court that he was leaving the Legal Aid Society. Defense counsel was reassigned, but the Legal Aid Society was not going to be ready for trial. Legal Aid was relieved and, after an 18-b attorney was assigned, the defendant pled guilty.
Ruling: The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Appellate Division reversed the conviction, noting that the judge had disparaged Legal Aid yet accommodated the prosecution’s numerous requests for adjournments. The claim to counsel was so deeply intertwined with integrity of the process that the guilty plea was not a bar to review.
Sheila O’Shea for the appellant; Harold V. Ferguson Jr. for the respondent