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Conviction overturned in drug case

Court records missing required information

A state appeals court has reversed a guilty plea in a drug case and dismissed the charges because of a procedural mistake.

Defendant Zeader L. Rickman pleaded guilty in Broome County Court, before Judge Kevin P. Dooley, in December 2020, to attempted third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Rickman was charged in December 2019 with two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

After his arrest, Rickman was held for action of a grand jury and, on Aug. 3, 2020, he appeared in County Court where he purportedly waived indictment and agreed to be prosecuted by a superior court information.

In satisfaction of the charge, Rickman pleaded guilty to attempted third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and waived his right to appeal, according to a recent decision from the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Department.

Dooley sentenced Rickman as a second felony drug offender, to four years in state prison, followed by two years of post-release supervision.

Rickman’s appellate lawyer argued that the waiver of indictment was invalid, and the Third Department panel agreed.

A defendant may waive indictment by a grand jury and consent to be prosecuted on an information filed by the prosecutor. The waiver must be signed by the defendant in open court in front of their attorney, the court wrote.

The record in Rickman’s case includes a written waiver of indictment signed by Rickman and witnessed by his lawyer on Aug. 3, 2020, the date he appeared before County Court and entered his guilty plea.

“The minutes of that appearance reflect that defendant orally agreed to waive indictment and affirmed that his signature is on the written waiver, but the minutes are silent as to whether defendant signed the written waiver in open court,” the Third Department wrote.

“There is no reference in the written waiver or in County Court’s order approving the waiver that indicates that the waiver was signed in open court. In light of this jurisdictional defect, defendant’s guilty plea must be vacated and the superior court information must be dismissed,” the Third Department panel ruled.

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