In May of last year, a divided Court of Appeals reinstated a complaint brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of indigent criminal defendants in Hurrell-Harring v. New York, 15 N.Y.3d 8 (2010), that alleged New York’s public defense system was inadequate to ensure the constitutional right to counsel. The Court recognized a cognizable claim for relief based on allegations that the plaintiffs had been denied the right to counsel by reason of insufficient compliance with the constitutional mandate of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). As significant as the creation of a right to a pretrial determination of the adequacy of assigned counsel under Gideon may be, what is perhaps of greater significance for the criminal defense bar in New York State is the Court’s recognition that an arraignment is a critical stage of the proceeding which requires the presence of counsel.

The Court’s ruling that a defendant’s arraignment is a critical stage in the proceedings that requires the assistance of counsel is premised on the fact that a defendant’s “pretrial liberty interests were on that occasion regularly adjudicated with most serious consequences, both direct and collateral, including the loss of employment and housing, and inability to support and care for particularly needy dependents.” While the Court states that arraignments are “undoubtedly” a critical stage of the proceedings which require the presence of counsel, prior to the decision in Hurrell-Harring, the idea that arraignments in New York State were a critical stage of the proceedings was very much in doubt.

‘Critical Stage’

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