People v. Kelvin Spears
AD4 order dated May 3, 2013, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 106 AD3d 1534,964 NYS2d 452. Pigott, J., granted leave to September 23, 2013.
ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) The sufficiency of the guilty plea’s factual allocution. (2) The validity of the appeal waiver. (3) Whether the court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s request at sentencing for an adjournment so that he could consult with counsel about a plea withdrawal motion.
Background: Defendant was charged with sexual abuse in the first degree and pleaded guilty to sex abuse in the second degree. Over two months later the client appeared at sentencing and asked for an adjournment. Counsel also requested an adjournment to discuss plea withdrawal. The prosecution opposed and the court denied the request. The Appellate Division found no abuse of discretion in the court’s denial.
The Court of Appeals majority held that whether to grant an adjournment is within court’s discretion. Here, the defendant had a fair amount of time to speak with counsel concerning his plea withdrawal. Although two months had elapsed between the plea and sentence, the defendant contacted counsel the day before sentencing. Additionally, the defendant had been able to confer with counsel. Moreover, if the defendant could have articulated grounds supporting plea withdrawal - the court was willing to grant the adjournment.
In dissent Justice Piggott considered the series of events leading to the request for an adjournment and observed that the request would have impacted no one else and represented a balanced approach. An adjournment of the Huntley hearing had been granted for no reason and the sentencing had previously been delayed for the prosecutor’s vacation. This disparate treatment rendered denial of adjournment an abuse of discretion.
CAL Observes: Courts are given a broad amount of discretion in managing their dockets. The degree of disagreement concerning the denial of an adjournment here is surprising and suggests that there is room to litigate this issue where a judge allows docket management to take precedence over the fair treatment of a defendant, particularly where the request does not prejudice the prosecution.