People v. Anthony Griffin


AD1 order dated December 15, 2011, reversing a judgment of conviction. Decision below: 92 A.D.3d 1, 934 N.Y.S.2d 393. Sweeny, J. (AD dissenter), granted leave to People February 28, 2012.

ISSUE PRESENTED: Whether the court abused its discretion by discharging defendant’s long-time counsel without consulting the defendant; whether the defendant’s subsequent guilty plea forfeited the issue for appeal. (Assigned counsel: Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Bureau, 199 Water Street, NYC 10038.)

Issue before the Court:  Whether the Appellate Division correctly held that the trial court abused its discretion in replacing defense counsel.

Held:  Yes it did.

CAL Observes:  In Judge Rivera’s first authored criminal decision for the Court (she wrote a separate concurrence in the Diaz case arguing for reversal on a second ground), she strongly reaffirms the role of defense counsel in our system.   The defendant’s subsequent plea was no bar to review of the claim because “the claim to counsel is so deeply intertwined with the integrity of the process” and because “[t]he choice of counsel’s significant role in the plea and eventual disposition process.”  In other words, defense counsel are not cogs that can simply be replaced at the whim of the judges.