In the People v. Collier case, on February 8, 2005, the defendant was found guilty of five counts of armed robbery (Penal Law § 160.15 ) for holdups at five different Albany, New York area stores during a two month period in the fall of 2004. The defendant was accused of displaying and threatening the use of a knife in order to force store employees to give him money out of the cash registers. On April 22, 2005, the defendant was offered a plea agreement to plead guilty to two counts of robbery in the first degree (the first and fifth counts) in satisfaction of a full indictment including unindicted robbery charges. Under the plea agreement which the defendant agreed to, the defendant was to be sentenced to a term of 25 years on the first count, and five years on the fifth count, followed by five years of supervised post-release. The judge in the case had the discretion to either direct these sentences to run concurrently or consecutively and chose that the fifth count run consecutively.
The defendant appealed the judge’s decision on the fifth count. In a decision by the Appellate Division on December 2, 2010, the Court agreed with the defendant that defendant’s five year sentence on count five was illegal, and vacated the defendant’s sentence remanding that the County Court Judge resentence the defendant so that “he receives the benefit of his sentencing bargain or permit both parties the opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement”. During the resentencing hearing, the defendant asked that his appeal be withdrawn. The People requested that the Court resentence the defendant.
The County Court judge resentenced the defendant to concurrent prison terms of 25 on the first count and 10 years on the fifth count with five years of post-release supervision. The defendant appealed again on the grounds that the 10 year sentence was illegal because he originally pleaded guilty in exchange for a five year sentence on the fifth count. The Appellate Division disagreed, arguing that the defendant received a lesser sentence under the resentencing than the one he originally agreed to under the plea agreement because the County Court directed the sentences run concurrently instead of consecutively, which reduced his aggregate prison term from 30 to 25 years. Therefore the Appellate Court further argued that the defendant had received the benefit of his plea bargain, and that the Court was not required to allow the defendant to withdraw his plea.
The defendant appealed again. On December 13, 2013, the New York Court of Appeal upheld the previous ruling by the Appellate Court arguing that if the original promised entered into between the defendant and the State could not be imposed in accordance with the plea agreement, the sentencing Court has the choice to vacate the guilty plea or impose another lawful sentence that meets the defendant’s expectations. The Court held in this case that allowing the defendant to withdraw his plea would give him more advantage than he was entitled to under the plea agreement. The Court further argued that the sentencing Court judge’s modification of the defendant’s sentence was proper because the resentencing of minimum 25 years to a maximum 30 years in exchange for his plea was a reasonable expectation, despite the fact the County Court did not resentence the defendant in conformity with the plea agreement terms regarding the fifth count of indictment. The Court of Appeal held that the County Court Judge’s modifications of the defendant’s sentence was proper because reducing the sentence from 30 years to 25 cured the illegality in the sentencing regarding the fifth count. The Court argued that the defendant received the benefit of his plea agreement in this case, and therefore, the Court affirmed the prior Appellate Division ruling.
Chief Justice Lippman dissented arguing against the majority view’s opinion that the only violated the defendant’s sentencing expectations and not his constitutional rights to due process. Chief Justice Lippman argued that in order for the defendant’s guilty plea to be considered valid, the defendant must possess the requisite information to make an informed choice. In this case, Chief Justice Lippman pointed out that the defendant’s guilty plea was obtained in violation of due process. Justice Lippman further argued as a result, the vacation of the plea is the proper remedy because without knowledge of the direct consequences of his criminal conviction, the defendant was not deemed knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently informed.
Chief Justice Lippman raises valid concerns about whether the defendant’s due process rights were violated in this case and whether his plea should be vacated. A good New York criminal defense lawyer at the trial level and appeals level is necessary to represent the defendant in criminal cases involving such complex issues in order to protect the defendant’s constitutional rights.