Eye on Eagle

People v. Greene


Issue Presented: Was the indictment multiplicitous when ... Woah!!! Check out this
concurrence from the Chief Judge!!!

Holding: Acknowledging the “stigma of impermissible convictions,” the Court held that one of
two perjury counts in Mr. Greene’s indictment was multiplicitous, requiring that it be dismissed.

CAL Observes: The Court’s brief opinion in this SSM case, which applied well-settled
precedent, is entirely forgettable. Chief Judge Wilson’s concurrence, however, is remarkable and
worth a read. Wilson addressed a question that concerns too few with power in our system: why
are we incarcerating so many people for minor antisocial behavior, and for so long?

Most New Yorkers would yawn at the facts of this case. Mr. Greene and the complainant got into
a verbal argument on the street after almost bumping into one another. Greene, who suffers from
mental health issues, ended up spontaneously grabbing the complainant’s phone and pedaling off
on his bicycle, only to be apprehended by police minutes later in an internet café. No one was
hurt and the phone was returned. “As Ratso Rizzo might attest,” Wilson wrote, “this case arose
from a quotidian dispute of the kind familiar to most New Yorkers: two people in a shouting
match after nearly bumping into each other on the street.” Hey, I’m walkin’ here!
But most New Yorkers would be shocked at the outcome. Convicted of larceny and perjury
(stemming from his grand jury testimony), Mr. Greene was sentenced to a whopping four to
eight years in prison. Against even the prosecutor’s recommendation, the court ran his sentences

In his concurrence, Chief Judge Wilson calls out the “wholly disproportionate result” in this case
and criticizes our system’s treatment of incarceration as the “default response” to low-level
offenses. Such thoughtless reflexivity, Wilson wrote, has “outsized deleterious consequences
that, ultimately, make our communities less safe.” He makes an express plea for the pursuit of
“restorative justice,” which, in addition to saving everyone time and money, “might have given
[the complainant] an opportunity to express her frustration with Mr. Greene in a direct and
productive dialogue,” something that the complainant had expressed a desire to do, in addition to
“giv[ing] the system a chance to offer Mr. Greene mental health support in a community, noncarceral
setting.” Wilson lamented our court system’s mere “baby steps” towards this more
humane and socially productive form of dispute resolution.

Wilson’s eloquent words are a refreshing call for reform. One would think that the most
powerful player in the New York court system might actually have some influence. But that
remains to be seen. And the fact that no other judge on the Court joined his opinion suggests we
have a ways to go. In the meantime, his lonely concurrence provides cold comfort to the
countless mentally-ill members of our community whose lives are further disrupted and damaged
by our cruel and inflexible carceral system.