People v. Abdelouahad Afilal


AT1 order dated June 4, 2014, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 43 Misc.3d 142(A), 933 NYS2d 645, 2014 WL 2504530. Read, J., granted leave February 6, 2015. Argued October 20, 2015.
ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) The validity of the misdemeanor guilty plea where defendant waived “formal allocution,” stated that he was guilty, confirmed that he was giving up his right to a trial, and acknowledged that he “had a chance to fully discuss his plea and all the possible consequences with [his] lawyer.” (2) The sufficiency of the factual allegations in the accusatory instrument. (Assigned counsel: Seymour James, Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Bureau, 199 Waters St. NYC 10038.)

Background Facts: A misdemeanor complaint charged Mr. Afilal with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana under Penal Law § 221.10(1), which criminalizes knowingly and unlawfully possessing marijuana “in a public place.” “Public place” is defined as “a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, and includes, but is not limited to, highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds, and hallways, lobbies and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence” under Penal Law § 240.00(1).


Issue: Does a misdemeanor complaint that alleges possession of marijuana in a public place, but fails to specify that the place was a sidewalk or a park, meet the minimum requirements to confer jurisdiction on the court?


Held: No, it does not. Simply saying “public place”, without more, is conclusory. The accusatory instrument had to be dismissed.


CAL Observes: Though a fairly straightforward application of the reasonable cause requirement, this case serves to highlight the importance of carefully scrutinizing whether the facts alleged in a misdemeanor complaint support each element of the charged offense. Where a complaint simply parrots the language of the charged offense, courts will not hesitate to find the pleading insufficient.