Concurrent Inclusory Counts Dismissed and Sentences Vacated—Defense Counsel’s Failure to Request that the Greater and Lesser Counts Be Submitted to the Jury in the Alternative, Although a Clear-Cut Error, Did Not Deprive the Defendant of Meaningful Representation
The Third Department determined defendant was entitled to dismissal of the inclusory concurrent counts and the vacation of the sentences imposed thereon, but was not entitled to reversal based upon defense counsel’s failure to request the that the inclusory concurrent counts be presented to the jury in the alternative (conviction on the greater count is deemed a dismissal of every lesser count). Although the omission was clear-cut error on defense counsel’s part, the error did not deprive defendant of effective assistance:
…. [T]he two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree are inclusory concurrent counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree … . “When inclusory counts are submitted for consideration, they must be submitted in the alternative since a conviction on the greater count is deemed a dismissal of every lesser count” … . Therefore, defendant’s misdemeanor convictions of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree must be reversed and the concurrent, one-year sentences vacated … .
We are not persuaded, however, that defense counsel’s failure to request an alternative charge on these counts “elevates this case to the level of one of those rare cases where a single lapse can constitute ineffective assistance of counsel” … . Although counsel erred on a clear-cut issue …, such an error must be viewed in the context of the entire representation, particularly in light of the other charges that defendant faced. Most importantly here, counsel’s error appears to arise from his failure to properly consider the misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. While defendant was certainly entitled to representation on those charges, defendant had previously been convicted of a felony drug offense and faced felony charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. Given the vastly disparate potential outcomes related to the felony and misdemeanor offenses with which defendant was charged, particularly in light of his prior felony drug conviction …, and absent any proof that counsel’s failure was greater than that of failing to properly attend to the misdemeanor charges, we do not find that defendant was deprived of meaningful representation … . People v Vanguilder, 2015 NY Slip Op 06175, 3rd Dept 7-16-15