Courts Cannot Convict By Amendment of a Clearly Erroneous Fact By Michael Joseph on November 16, 2020

The New York Court of Appeals held that prosecutors cannot amend a deficient accusatory information to make it valid, by amending the charges to include a clearly erroneous facts. Under New York's criminal procedural law, accustory informations which are defective must be dismissed and cannot serve as the basis for a proseuction. In a recent decision, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the lower Court which relied on People v. Easton, a case which was decided prior to the enactment of New York's criminal procedure law. 

In People v. Easton, 307 N.Y. 336, 121 N.E.2d 357 (1954), the issue was whether the lower courts erred in permitting amendment of a clearly erroneous fact contained in the information charging Mr. Hardy with harassment and contempt in the second degree. However, Easton was decided when the Code of Criminal Procedure governed criminal prosecutions.  Following several years of study and numerous reports, the legislature replaced the Code of Criminal Procedure with the modern Criminal Procedural Law (CPL).  Relying on Easton, the Appellate Term held that the factual amendment of the clearly erroneous date was permissible.  It was to decide whether Easton remains good law following the passage of the Criminal Procedure Law. It was thereafter concluded that the CPL displaced Easton and precluded prosecutors from curing factual errors or deficiencies in information and misdemeanor complaints via amendment.  The CPL requires a superseding accusatory instrument supported by a sworn statement containing the correct factual allegations. The Court of Appeals reversed Defendant's conviction of criminal contempt, as charged in an amended accusatory instrument, holding that the lower courts erred in permitting amendment of a clearly erroneous fact contained in the information charging Defendant with harassment and contempt in the second degree. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal contempt and received a ninety-day jail sentence. This means that a  person who never should have gone to jail, was convicted based upon an illegal conviction. If you are facing criminal charges, it is not recommeded to just plead guilty and forgoe defenses that could get the charges dismissed. Only by speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney, and allowing an experienced attorney to review the charging paperwork, will you know if you have a charge that can be dismissed. 

The Appellate Term affirmed Defendant's conviction, holding that the factual amendment of a clearly erroneous date was permissible under People v. Easton, 307 NY 336 (1954).

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the legislature's replacement of the Code of Criminal Procedure with the modern Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) displaced Easton and precluded prosecutors from curing factual errors or deficiencies in information and misdemeanor complaints via amendment;

(2) the CPL requires a superseding accessory instrument supported by a sworn statement contains the correct factual allegations; and

(3) because the trial court lacked the authority to permit the amendment, the accusatory instrument was jurisdictionally defective.

Our Westchester criminal defense lawyers have won dismissals of many criminal charges based upon facial insufficiency, which means that the accusatory instrument does not sufficiently allege the commission of a crime, by sworn statements and evidence. If you are facing criminal charges, speak with our Westchester criminal defense attorneys. There are defenses to your charges that you may be unaware of. 

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