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Defendant Tries to Reverse Guilty Plea


The issue in this proceeding is whether a claim for innocence lies under CPL 440.10(1)(h) to vacate a judgment of conviction based on the defendant’s guilty plea. The court felt that the defendant’s pleas of innocence is not adequate grounds for relief.

The defendant is a nurse who was a caregiver for the victim. The victim is a disabled 10-year-old girl, who is blind, immobile and unable to speak. The defendant bathed the girl using a hand-held shower device. When she applied lotion to the girl’s legs after a shower, she noticed her skin was red and peeling.

The defendant called the girls parents who took her to the doctor. The doctor initially determined that that the victim had had an adverse reaction to medication. She was then referred to a hospital. At the second medical facility, it was determined that her condition was due to third-degree burns, which required skin grafts.

A child abuse task force was assigned. The defendant admitted that she burned the child. She stated that she felt the water she had used for bathing and it was very hot. She knew after the bath that she had burned the child.

The defendant was charged with second and third-degree assault and several counts of endangering the welfare on an incompetent person and endangering the welfare of a child.

The defendant pleads guilty for endangering the welfare of an incompetent. It was a nonviolent felony and was punishable by possible jail time and probation. She understood the rights she had waived by pleading guilty. She admitted in her testimony that she had not tested the water correctly. She was sentenced to 4 months in jail and 5 years’ probation.

The family subsequently sued her in a civil action, and because of her prior guilty plea, she could not contest liability.

The defendant moved to vacate the judgment under CPL 440.10 (1)(h). She argued her plea was unconstitutionally obtained. She also claimed innocence relying on People v Hamilton 115 AD3d [2 Department 2014]. The defendant offered physical evidence to support her argument.

She argued that her counsel hadn’t properly researched the nature and cause of the defendant’s injuries. The People claimed that the innocence claim was not available under CPL 440.10 (1)(h). The court denied the claim, stating that the defendant failed to provide clear and convincing evidence warranting relief.

The appellate court reversed and remitted the matter to County Court. The court said here that the defendant had shown a prima facie argument for her plea of innocence. The People appealed.

On appeal, the court said that a claim of conviction can’t stand due to the production of new evidence and be brought independently of CPL 440.10 (1)(9).

In 2012, the legislature added to the CPL 440.10 (1)(g-1) statute to allow newly discovered evidence to be admitted (DNA). The statutory framework was to adhere to the idea that a voluntary admission of guilt is not cased aside in a collateral motion for a new factual determination of the evidence of guilt. A person who has entered a valid guilty plea no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence and is now presumed guilty (Schlup v Delo 513 US 298, 306 n 42 [1995].

The court concluded that allowing a collateral argument on a guilty plea obtained in a judicial proceeding that complied with all constitutional protections would be inconsistent with jurisprudence. There is no actual innocence claim available under CPL 440.10 (1)(h)[FN9].

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