New York Court Upholds Defendant’s Contempt Conviction, Despite Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Argument

In a recent case before a New York court, the defendant argued that his defense attorney was ineffective in representing him at the trial level. Originally, he was found guilty of both criminal contempt and committing an aggravated family offense, but the defendant thought he was entitled to receive an entirely new trial because of his attorney’s mistake. After reviewing the defendant’s argument, the higher court dismissed the aggravated family offense count but ultimately upheld the conviction for criminal contempt.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant went into his former girlfriend’s apartment one day in 2016 when there was an active stay-away order that legally prohibited him from being in her presence. While he was there, the defendant put his hands around his ex-girlfriend’s neck and stole her ID cards. The ex-girlfriend called the police, and the officers arrested the defendant immediately.

He was subsequently charged with criminal contempt because he had violated the stay-away order that was in effect. He was also charged with committing a family offense, which means that he committed a violent act against a relative or person with whom he had an “intimate relationship.” The defendant was found guilty, and he promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective and that he should thus be granted an entirely new trial. The defendant claimed his attorney failed to argue that there was insufficient evidence to show that he had committed criminal contempt.

The statute that applied to the defendant’s case specifically states that to be found guilty of second-degree criminal contempt, an individual must have been previously convicted of criminal contempt for violating a stay-away order. This statute was up for interpretation, said the defendant, and it was not clear whether it meant that the prior offense must have involved the violation of the specific provision of a stay-away order requiring him to stay away from his ex-girlfriend. If that was the case, he had not violated the stay-away order in the way the statute required, and his attorney should have tried to get the court to dismiss the criminal contempt issue altogether.

Ultimately, the court looked at the trial record and determined that this was not a clear-cut issue and that the statute was unclear as to what exactly it meant. Therefore, because it was such a tough call either way, the trial attorney was not ineffective for failing to bring it up. Disagreeing with the defendant, then, the court upheld the criminal contempt conviction.

However with regard to the aggravated family offense count the Court reversed the conviction.  The Court found that the indictment as to that count was defective in that there are literally dozens of different section that you can violate to be convicted of an aggravated family offense.  Since the indictment did not specify which one of the the dozens of offenses the defendant committed the indictment did not give the defendant fair notice of the charges against him that would allow him to prepare a defense.

Are You on the Lookout for a New York Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal contempt in New York, give our office a call at Tilem & Associates. We are proud to fight for the accused, and we understand that when your personal freedom is on the line, you shouldn’t have to settle for anything but the best. For a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, call us today at 877-377-8666. You can also fill out our online form to tell us about your case.

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