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Defendant Alleges Error in Grand Jury Indictment

People v. M.

2018 NY Slip Op 07924

November 20, 2018

The court held that the order of the Appellate Court should be confirmed. The defendant claims that his plea of guilty was involuntary. He argued that the indictment must be dismissed because the People didn’t notify the grand jury that the defendant wished to call a particular witness. The defendant argues that the prosecutor’s conduct impaired the integrity of the grand jury proceeding and his motion to dismiss isn’t forfeited by his plea of guilty.

The Appellate Court held that the plea was entered voluntarily. When the plead guilty, he forfeited his argument that his motion to dismiss his indictment should have been granted. The court granted leave to appeal and this court affirms (29 NY3d 1130 [2017].

The court agrees that the defendant entered his guilty plea voluntarily (People v Harris 61 NY2d 919 [1983]) and the County Court didn’t err in their decision to not allow the defendant to withdraw his plea (People v Hanson 95 NY2d 227, 231 [2000]).

The main point of the defendant’s argument is the exclusion of witness testimony. The witness’s testimony, however, was largely inadmissible and, in the end, would have inculpated him. The exclusion of the testimony before the grand jury doesn’t present a constitutional defect and therefore doesn’t survive past the defendant’s guilty plea.

Rivera, J. (concurring)

I agree with the Appellate Court. All the reasons the defendant cites are without merit. That said, I feel the majority has improperly merged the forfeiture and merits analysis with the defendant’s claim.

The defendant argues that his conviction should be reversed because the integrity of the grand jury proceeding was compromised.

The State Constitution provides that no one should be held to answer for a capital offense unless they are indicted by a grand jury (People v Iannone 45 NY2d 589, 593[1978]). Such a check is necessary to ensure a defendant is protected from prosecutorial power.

The grand jury can call a witness of any person believed to have relevant information. If the witness isn’t called by the People, it can request that the DA serve a subpoena on the witness.

At any time, the grand jury can request an order modifying the request if it is in the public interest. At the court’s discretion, they may vacate the direction of the subpoena. The prosecution has no discretion to deny the defendant’s request.

The People were mistaken that the defendant’s plea forfeited his claim stating that prosecutor conduct compromised his grand jury proceeding. Pursuant to CPL 190.50(3) and (6), the prosecutor can’t decide to avoid a vote on something requested by the defendant.

The correct approach here would have been for the prosecutor to provide the name of the witness to the grand jury and explain why the witness would not have provided valuable information. If the grand jury requested the prosecutor to issue and serve a subpoena, they would have been obligated to do so. The prosecutor could have pursued an order under CPL 190.50 (3), but that wasn’t done here. For that reason, the conviction should stand.