People v. Michael Mox


AD4 order dated May 6, 2011, reversing judgment of conviction after a guilty plea. Decision below: 84 A.D.3d 1723, 922 N.Y.S.2d 686. Nancy E. Smith (AD dissenter), J., granted leave to People August 8, 2011. Argued November 13, 2012. (Taken off SSM.)

ISSUE PRESENTED: Whether the defendant’s plea was knowing and voluntary where, in his plea allocution, he said that he had acted in a "psychotic state," and whether the defect in the allocution comes within the Lopez exception to the preservation requirement since it cast significant doubt upon his guilt.

Issue: Where defendant was charged with second-degree murder and pleading guilty to eed manslaughter for killing his elderly father after stabbing him and striking him in the head with a blunt instrument, and, during allocution, defendant said on the date of the crime that he had been "hearing voices," was in a "psychotic state," and had not been taking his prescribed medication, whether court should have granted defendant’s plea withdrawal motion notwithstanding defendant’s one-word assent to court’s question to defendant that he had discussed potential psychiatric defense and was willing to forgo it to plead guilty.

Held: Defendant’s statements that he was in a psychotic state and hearing voices on the day of the crime "signaled that he may have been suffering from a mental disease or defect," and may have been "unable to form the intent necessary" to commit manslaughter. The court’s duty under People v. Lopez, 71 N.Y.2d 662 (1988), to ensure that defendant was knowingly waiving psychiatric defenses was not satisfied by it’s single question, to which the defendant provided a one-word answer. 

  CAL observes: In dissent, Judge Smith observes that, while the defendant’s comments about "hearing voices" required the court to ask defendant whether he was aware of psychiatric defenses, the court satisfied its obligation under by asking him whether he’d discussed those defenses with his attorney. The majority found that defendant’s one-word response was inadequate, as a matter of law, to satisfy the court’s obligation to ensure that defendant was knowingly pleading guilty.  

Open questions stemming from this decision include whether information from sources other than the defendant's own statements (such as motion papers available to the court) would also trigger the court's duty to inquire.