Criminal law is an area can be rather complex especially where there are several charges against a person arising out of one event or the alleged acts were committed against the same person or group of persons. This issue arose in the People v Estevez where there was an issue of consolidation versus severance.
In the People v Estevez, the defendant was charged with three crimes occurring on three separate dates at the same location and involving the same complaining witness in a first docket. He was then charged with three counts of criminal contempt in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor for violating an order of protection issued by the court on the first docket and harassment in the first degree, a class B misdemeanor. The People then sought to consolidate the two matters which is a procedure by which the prosecutor or defendant attempts to have two or more separate offenses combined for a single trial. Additionally upon consolidation the prosecution stated that the criminal contempt charge would be reduced to attempted criminal contempt, a class B misdemeanor.
The prosecution sought to consolidation the charges because the alleged facts showed pattern of harassment of same complainant and all charges were same or similar in law. In this case, the three counts of contempt of court flowed from the first charges as such consolidation would be appropriate. The defendant however, opposed motion and asserted that, if consolidation were granted, defendant would be exposed to more than six months imprisonment, which would entitle him to trial by jury. The prosecutor could not act in good faith by reducing several “serious charges” to which defendant would be entitled to jury trial to “petty offenses” and then move to consolidate them for purpose of joint trial in which the potential sentence would be that of “serious offense” that is more than six months of imprisonment may be imposed, while denying defendant right to trial by jury.
The United States Constitution guarantees the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers. Trial by jury is one of the pillars of our system of justice, and a sentencing judge should show appropriate respect for a jury verdict honestly and fairly rendered. Jury trial is required if sentence imposed aggregates more than six months even if no more than six-month sentence was in fact imposed for any single offense. For purposes of determining whether jury trial is required, no offense can be deemed “petty” for right to trial by jury where imprisonment for more than six months is authorized. If prosecutor in its discretion chooses to reduce several charges to misdemeanors and then seeks to consolidate those charges for joint trial, prosecutor also implicitly limits exposure that defendant will face if convicted of more than two petty offenses. Therefore, the limited exposure ensures that the sentence cannot be greater than six months total imprisonment, because total sentence of more than six months would entitle defendant to a jury trial. The reduction in the charges against Mr. Estevez was an inference that he could serve no more than 6 months for such charges. No bail was involved after the arrest.
The court granted the motion for consolidation. It was held that the prosecutor could not reduce several serious charges to petty offenses and then move to consolidate them for purposes of joint trial wherein potential sentence would be that of “serious offense” which would entitle defendant to right to jury trial. Furthermore, the prosecutor can use its discretion to reduce charges to class B misdemeanors and then seeks to consolidate those charges for a joint trial, exposure that defendant will face if convicted is implicitly limited to sentence not greater than six months of total imprisonment.
The court also addressed the issue of severance of charges on an indictment. Where counts were properly joined which the Defendant objects to he/she must show good cause to sever the charges and show that such joinder would case grave injustice. For example cases should be severed if defendant asserts that he has reason to testify as to certain counts of indictment but wishes to remain silent as to others or if defendant makes convincing showing that he has both important testimony to give concerning one offense and strong need to refrain from testifying as to the other.
A Bronx Criminal Lawyer said every person accused of a crime has the constitutional right of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you are experiencing injustice in your criminal case, you will need the assistance of a criminal lawyer to help clear your name and dismiss your case in court. Stephen Bilkis and Associates have criminal attorneys that could render legal service to assist you with any of your legal dilemmas.