After a defendant is convicted in a criminal case, there are usually questions that the family members or loved one of a defendant may have. One of these questions is, “What are the next steps,” that are available to a defendant to challenge either a plea or a conviction after jury trial?
In New York, one of the strongest tools that a criminal defense attorney has in challenging a criminal conviction is the CPL 440.10 motion.
What is a CPL 440.10 Motion?
A “440 Motion” is considered a collateral attack to a conviction. Unlike a direct appeal, a CPL 440 motion is not meant to have a review of the trial by an appellate based upon facts or legal claims that are a part of that trial.
If the prosecutor made inappropriate comments during a closing argument, and then the attorney objected and detailed reasons for his or her objection and the judge ruled against the attorney’s objection, that particular issue should not be raised on a CPL 440 motion, but should be included as part of a defendant’s direct appeal.
What is the Basis for Relief Under CLP 440.10?
Specifically, a CPL 440 motion contains ten (10) separate and distinct basis’ for relief as a part of subdivision one of the statue. Some examples include:
- If the court did not have personal or geographical jurisdiction over a defendant, that can be raised in the CPL 440 motion;
- If the conviction was procured by duress, fraud, or misrepresentation, by a court or prosecutor (or someone acting on behalf of either party);
- Lack of understanding the proceedings due to mental disease or the fact;
- Conduct not on the record (which if it had appeared on the record it would have required a reversal of the conviction);
- Newly discovered evidence which could not have been obtained with due diligence prior to trial.
- Material evidence at trial was false and was known to be false by the prosecutor and/or the court prior to the entry of judgment;
- Evidence that was obtained in violation of the defendant’s state or federal constitutional rights.
What are the Most Common CPL 440 Provisions Used in Litigation?
CPL-440.10 contains ten (10) specific subdivisions for which a defendant can seek relief.
The most common provisions used in 440 litigation are:
- newly discovered evidence; and
- the provision that covers ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
Newly Discovered Evidence
What is Newly Discovered Evidence?
“Newly discovered evidence” is evidence that could not have been obtained with “due diligence” prior to trial. Basically, the evidence must be discovered after a verdict in the trial, and could not have been discovered after a due diligence search. For example, DNA evidence that has been tested after conviction would constitute newly discovered evidence.
When Can You File a Newly Discovered Evidence Claim?
The reason why newly discovered evidence is amongst the most common provisions used for litigation is due to the fact that, in most instances, if a witness recants their testimony, an investigator discovers a new witness post-conviction, the defendant or the defendant’s family members are able to obtain video evidence or an audio recording from a private party that they did not know existed prior to trial, those are examples of when a newly discovered evidence claim would be made.
What Provision Governs Newly Discovered Evidence?
- “New evidence has been discovered since the entry of a judgment based upon a verdict of guilty after trial, which could not have been produced by the defendant at the trial even with due diligence on his part and which is of such character as to create a probability that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant; provided that the motion is based upon such ground must be made with due diligence after the discovery of such alleged new evidence…;”
- “Upon granting the motion upon the ground, as prescribed in paragraph (g) of subdivision one, that newly discovered evidence creates a probability that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant in that the conviction would have been for a lesser offense than the one contained in the verdict, the court may either:
- (a): Vacate the judgment and order a new trial; or
- (b): With the consent of the people, modify the judgment by reducing it to one of conviction for such lesser offense. In such a case, the court must re-sentence the defendant accordingly.”
What are the Six (6) Prongs that a Defendant Must Meet When Alleging a Newly Discovered Evidence Claim in a 440 Proceeding?
To give definition to what a legitimate newly discovered evidence claim would be, we must look at the six (6) prongs that the courts in this state have set out for the defendant to meet when alleging a newly discovered evidence claim in a 440 proceeding.
In order to satisfy the initial burden of proof for the purposes of 440, a defendant must first prove that he or she is in possession of evidence that is of a nature that, had it been posed prior to trial, that there is a probability of a different verdict at a new trial.
The defendant must next prove that:
- the evidence was discovered after trial;
- that the evidence could not have been discovered with due diligence prior to the jury’s verdict;
- whether or not the evidence is relevant and material; and
- that the evidence is not merely cumulative or to be used for impeachment purposes.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
What is the “Ineffective Assistance of Counsel?”
Another very common use of the 440 motion is to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
The claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel can cover a very broad number of actual circumstances.
Some examples of ineffective assistance of counsel claims would include:
- a defense attorney’s failure to investigate (either legally or factually);
- a defense attorney’s failure to make certain motions; and
- a failure to present certain witnesses or evidence at trial.
On the other end of the spectrum, ineffective assistance as a counterclaim could include the fact that the attorney made disparaging remarks regarding a defendant‘s pro se legal submission.
Another common use of the CPL 440 motion is the use of the application to raise a free-standing claim of “actual innocence.”
What is a Claim of “Actual Innocence?”
The free-standing claim of “actual innocence” is specifically referenced in the CPL 440 statue itself. In 2014, the Appellate Division Second Department finally acknowledged, in People v. Derrick Hamilton, that an innocent person being convicted (even after a fair trial) would violate both state and federal constitutional rights of the person convicted.
The claim of “actual innocence” is not a claim that the defendant may have committed some crime but not in the method and manner consistent with the prosecution’s theory at trial.
A freestanding claim of actual innocence is a claim that the defendant, in fact, did not commit the crime at all. In order to raise a claim of actual innocent the defendant is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would convict the defendant based upon the totality of the evidence presented.
An actual innocence claim, though commonly used, is usually not successful (except in cases where the defendant is able to meet the highest evidentiary burden of proof.)
However, the acknowledgment of the viability of such a claim in the context of broad litigation has saved many innocent defendants.
Filing a CPL 440 Motion
What Work is Required to Prepare a CPL 440 Motion?
The work that is entailed in preparing this motion includes a defense attorney reviewing:
- trial and sentencing transcripts;
- discovery produced by the government prior to and during the trial;
- any police reports that were generally related to the case; and
- the use of private investigators and possibly expert witnesses (depending on the nature of the allegations against the defendant.)
What Happens After a CPL 440 Motion is Prepared?
Once a 440 motion is prepared, which includes:
- supporting documentation;
- affidavits and sworn statements; and
- any other physical or electronically generated documents.
The evidence that tends to support this motion will be submitted to the trial court generally the judge who heard the case during its original trial.
When Can a Judge Summarily Grant or Deny a 440 Motion?
The second subdivision of CPL 440.10 governs what circumstances a judge should summarily grant or deny a 440 motion.
Some examples of motions that may be denied include:
- a statutory mandate when a defendant failed to raise an issue during his or her direct appeal;
- when a defendant cannot show that the issue raised or evidence obtained could not have been a part of the original trial by using “due diligence” to raise that issue or find that evidence; and
- when a defendant has failed to support the motion – either through the use of sworn affidavit or other evidence – to support the allegations that are being made in the application.
On the other hand, a 440 motion can be summarily granted if the motion is supported by irrefutable documentary proof or which are the basis of the motion but not refuted but conceded oppression prosecution.
In most instances, CPL 440 motions are summarily denied and rarely summarily granted.
If your CPL 440 motion is granted, the judge reviewing the motion will then grant a hearing.
CPL 440 Hearings
What Happens at a 440 Motion Hearing?
A 440 motion hearing amounts to what defense practitioners call a “mini trap trial.”
What that means is that, since a jury is not convened, the hearing judge becomes the “finder–of–fact” in aspects of the trial. This includes presenting witnesses and other forms of evidence subjecting witnesses to cross-examination and making many objections during their proceedings.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge generally requires each party to make post-hearing submissions
What is a “Post-Hearing Submission?”
A “post-hearing submission” is basically factual and legal arguments on why the motion should be granted and why the judgment should uphold the position of defense counsel.
It is usually thirty (30) to forty-five (45) days after all post-hearing submissions are filed for the judge to render a decision.
What Happens if a Defendant’s Motion is Granted?
If the defendant’s motion is granted, that would mean that the conviction is “vacated.” A motion to “vacate” is a formal request to overturn a court’s earlier judgment, order, or sentence.
Then, in most instances (except for the instance of a successful claim of factual innocence) the defendant will be granted a new trial.
What Happens if a Defendant is Granted a New Trial?
The granting of a new trial places the defendant in the same position that he or she was in if there were a retrial. In rare instances (such as a successful claim of “actual innocence”), a new trial would not be warranted.
What is the Burden of Proof for Defense Counsel in a 440 Hearing?
In order for the judge to grant a new trial, defense counsel must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that no reasonable juror would have convicted the defendant in light of the newly discovered facts or evidence.
What Happens if Your 440 Motion is Denied?
In the instances where a defendant motion is denied, the defendant does have a right to appeal the motion denial to the appellate division and the defendant will have thirty (30) days to file a leave seeking permission to appeal the denial.
Finally, one distinction worth noting is that while CPL 440.10 is used to vacate a criminal conviction, CPL 440.20 is the proper vehicle for challenging a sentence.
Has Your Firm Ever Filed a CPL 440 Motion?
Over the years our firm had used CPL 440.10 to raise a number of claims.
This includes situations where clients were convicted based upon guilty pleas, but without having been advised of the possible immigration consequences the guilty plea would create. (This was considered to be ineffective assistance of counsel on the part of our client’s previous attorney.)
We have also read issues in CPL 440 motions where defendants were convicted after trials and council had failed to investigate and obtain material facts that would have in fact changed the result of the trial had that evidence been included as a part of the original trial.
Does a Defendant Have a Right to Counsel to File a CPL 440 Motion?
One of the main factors of the CPL 440 motion is the fact that there is no right to counsel for the preparation of this application to the court. The government is only required to assign an attorney to a defendant in a 440 motion if a hearing is granted.
What Does this Mean for Defendants Who is Unable to Retain Counsel?
What this means is that if the defendant is not able to retain counsel or find an attorney to represent them pro bono, defendants will not have the opportunity to have counsel prepare a 440 motion that has a strong likelihood of success.
In some cases, many defendants believe that if the criminal conviction is affirmed by the appellate court, that they have lost the opportunity to raise additional facts that were not a part of the trial or a new fact that they have just discovered
In order to solve that dilemma, the sole obstacle remaining is the defendant’s ability to retain counsel to assist with the preparation of the motion which may increase the likelihood of obtaining a 440 hearing.
Call Us Now
If you or someone you love is looking for an attorney to represent them in a federal or criminal case, call us now at (212) 736-3900.