The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, over an extensive three-judge dissent, determined defendant was deprived of counsel at a critical stage of the prosecution, i.e., when the People made a motion to take a buccal swap for DNA testing. The appellate division properly vacated defendant’s pleas, but should not have dismissed the indictment:
Here, the People filed their motion to compel the DNA test and served the motion on retained counsel in court. As the Appellate Division found, the trial court — in defendant’s absence — subsequently granted both the retained defense counsel’s motion to be relieved from representing defendant for failure to pay his fee and the People’s DNA discovery motion, which it granted based on the “putative consent” it inferred from retained counsel’s silence. Later the same day that counsel was relieved, defendant appeared in court. Knowing defendant was unrepresented, the court, rather than remain neutral, proceeded to act in place of counsel throughout an extensive colloquy, telling defendant that there were no bases on which to challenge the DNA sample order. In response to the court, defendant stated that he had not spoken with his attorney about the prosecution’s motion and did not wish to consent to giving a sample. Notwithstanding defendant’s entreaties, the court rejected his repeated requests for an attorney to advise him regarding the motion. Instead, the court told defendant “an attorney [was] not going to be able to help,” and that there was “no basis for fighting [the test].” When defendant said he did not “know the law,” the judge responded “I know the law.” On these facts, the Appellate Division correctly determined that “the pretrial proceedings concerning the DNA test were ‘critical’ within the meaning of the law … . Accordingly, defendant was deprived his right to counsel.
We reject the dissent’s conclusion that defendant was not denied counsel during a critical stage of the proceeding, as that determination is contrary to law and would require that we distort the factual record. As the People concede, there was no express consent to their request for the DNA sample, either by defendant or by retained counsel. Nor was there any affirmative conduct or errant statement by defendant or counsel from which implied consent could be inferred. Instead, as the People acknowledge, the court issued its order based only on retained counsel’s failure to reply to the People’s motion to compel the buccal swab. Under the circumstances here, that is not a proper basis for finding defendant’s consent … . Further, as the record unambiguously shows, shortly after the court granted retained counsel’s request to withdraw — leaving defendant unrepresented — defendant appeared in court, expressly denied consent, and repeatedly stated he wanted counsel to assist him in responding to the People’s motion [FN5]. Yet, rather than appointing counsel, the court told defendant there was no basis to oppose the motion. Notwithstanding these facts, the dissent believes defendant was represented on the motion for the DNA sample; we do not. People v Smith, 2017 NY Slip Op 08798, CtApp 12-19-17
CRIMINAL LAW (DETERMINATION OF MOTION TO TAKE A BUCCAL SWAB FOR DNA TESTING IS A CRITICAL STAGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS REQUIRING REPRESENTATION BY COUNSEL, BECAUSE DEFENSE COUNSEL HAD BEEN RELIEVED, DEFENDANT’S GUILTY PLEAS MUST BE VACATED (CT APP))/ATTORNEYS (CRIMINAL LAW, DETERMINATION OF MOTION TO TAKE A BUCCAL SWAB FOR DNA TESTING IS A CRITICAL STAGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS REQUIRING REPRESENTATION BY COUNSEL, BECAUSE DEFENSE COUNSEL HAD BEEN RELIEVED, DEFENDANT’S GUILTY PLEAS MUST BE VACATED (CT APP))/DNA TESTING (CRIMINAL LAW, DETERMINATION OF MOTION TO TAKE A BUCCAL SWAB FOR DNA TESTING IS A CRITICAL STAGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS REQUIRING REPRESENTATION BY COUNSEL, BECAUSE DEFENSE COUNSEL HAD BEEN RELIEVED, DEFENDANT’S GUILTY PLEAS MUST BE VACATED (CT APP))