People v. Zaquan Walley


Issue before the Court: Whether the SCI waiver of indictment form was defective for failing to include not only the date of the offense, but also the approximate time.

Held: Unanimously ruling on SSM that any such omission did not render the SCI jurisdictionally defective and, thus, finding the non-jurisdictional claim waived by the guilty plea.

Discussion: C.P.L. § 195.20 sets forth the requirements for what the writing waiving grand jury indictment must state, including the “date and approximate time and place of each offense.”  The Court of Appeals had previously required strict adherence to the statutory mandate.  See, e.g., People v. Boston, 75 N.Y.2d 585 (1990).  However, in People v. Thomas (Lang) 34 N.Y.3d 545, 588 (2019) – a case better known for its appeal waiver holding and one decided a month after the Appellate Division reversed Mr. Walley’s conviction – the Court held that Lang’s challenge to the SCI waiver for failing to include the approximate time of the offense was not a nonwaivable jurisdictional defect.  Not surprisingly, a year later the Court was not willing to overturn Lang in Mr. Walley’s case.

CAL Observes: While this unanimous SSM case reaffirming a year-old precedent is hardly groundbreaking or even particularly noteworthy, two observations should be made.  First, there is scant reason why this case should have been in the Court of Appeals, particularly as they entertain so few criminal cases nowadays.  The exact issue had been decided a year before; either a motion for reconsideration in the Appellate Division or a summary remittal back to the Third Department by the Court of Appeals for re-evaluation in light of Lang would have made more sense.  Perhaps more significantly, the holding in Lang as reaffirmed by Walley sheds light on the outer boundaries for the Court’s SCI waiver jurisprudence, which had previously required strict adherence to the constitutional and statutory framework.  What other statutory-violating events may cause a retrenchment from the strict compliance rule under the guise of a jurisdictional vs. non-jurisdictional defect remains unclear.