People v. Cavell Craig Tyrell


AT1 orders dated July 16, 2012, affirming two judgments of conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Decisions below: 37 Misc.3d 16, 952 NYS2d 370; 36 Misc.3d 133(A), 2012 WL 2897057. Graffeo, J., granted leave October 4, 2012.

ISSUE PRESENTED: Whether defendant’s Criminal Court pleas were knowing and voluntary in the absence of any factual allocution or any other colloquy with the defendant; whether such an issue needs to be preserved for appellate review. (Assigned counsel: Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeal Bureau, 199 Water Street, NYC 10038.)

Issue before the Court: Whether the defendant’s misdemeanor pleas entered in criminal court at arraignment, must be vacated, because the record reflects no waiver of his Boykin rights, notwithstanding the absence of any postallocution plea withdrawal motion. 


Held: Under either the Lopez/Louree preservation exception or mode-of-proceedings analysis, the Boykin claims are reviewable on direct appeal, notwithstanding the absence of a postallocution motion, and, on review, the pleas must be vacated as invalid. The records in these cases “do not affirmatively demonstrate defendant’s understanding or waiver of his constitutional rights.  In each case, there is a complete absence of discussion of any of the pertinent constitutional rights; none are addressed by the court, defense counsel or defendant.” 


CAL Observes: The impact of this decision remains to be seen — perhaps as Judge Smith, in dissent, fears, it will be another “Catu” (a case leading to a “troubled journey” on which he would not, if given another chance, “embark again”) — perhaps not, but it is surely true that quickie pleas taken at arraignment with little more than an agreement to plead guilty and pronouncement of sentence have been par for the course.  This case, in which only Judges Smith and Pigott dissented, reminds courts and litigants alike that plea bargaining away one’s constitutional rights is an important and grave step to which attention must be paid. 


The case is also interesting for Judge Smith’s bleak opinion of Catu and “the troubled journey” on which it led the Court. Like the Collier decision decided the same day (see below), it provides some insight into how the fallout from Catu continues to animate the thinking of members of the Court whenever a "floodgates" may open.  (We note for the record that the defense in the Sparber cases argued before the Court urged "lop off" of the illegally imposed PRS, a remedy which the Court rejected in favor of mass resentencings, but which surely would have avoided much of the post-Sparber litigation flowing from the thousands of PRS resentencings that ensued.)   


Finally, while we applaud the Court for breathing new life into Boykin, this case underscores the Court's baffling holding in Peque, decided last month.  Here, the Court, consistent with its otherwise settled plea jurisprudence, rejects any “prejudice" analysis. Plea vacatur automatically follows from the plea's involuntariness. Peque, however, requires remittal for a “prejudice” hearing in the trial court for a plea no less involuntary and invalid.