Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of an Accused’s Right to Legal Counsel

Driver Consented to Breath Test without Being Notified
 by Police that Her Attorney Attempted to Contact Her
May 7, 2014

The New York State Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state) ruled in favor of Jonai Washington, Frederick K. Brewington’s client, in the criminal matter of People v. Jonai Washington. Ms. Washington, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, was denied access to her attorney while police made her submit to a breath test at the police precinct. Her attorney was on the phone with the police conducting the testing at the precinct and asking to speak with his client, while advising police that she should not undergo any testing.

On August 30, 2010, Ms. Washington was involved in a crash on Uniondale Avenue in Hempstead. Police indicated she showed signs of drunkenness and had her submit to a breath test at the precinct. At the same time Ms. Washington signed a form consenting to a breath test, her attorney called police headquarters and told the officers to stop all questioning and that she does not have to subject herself to any breath tests. Nearly 10 minutes later, the breath test was administered without her being notified by police that her attorney had called.

After the Nassau County District Attorney appealed to the Court of Appeals, the matter was heard by the Court on March 26, 2014. On that date, Mr. Brewington appeared before the Court of Appeals to argue on Ms. Washington’s behalf. Mr. Brewington told the court that police officers do not have the right to interfere in the attorney-client relationship when the attorney is just steps away on the phone and there is no pressing time issue on conducting the testing. He asserted that Nassau County police intentionally denied Ms. Washington her right to speak to an attorney and continued to have her submit to a breath test after her involvement in the fatal car accident when they knew that her attorney was trying to speak with her.

On May 6, 2014, the Court of Appeals ruled that the police violated Ms. Washington’s right to access to her attorney because the police did not notify Ms. Washington that her attorney called, and indeed was on the phone, before she submitted to the breath test.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision,” Mr. Brewington said. “By failing to notify my client that her attorney was attempting to contact her, the police prevented her from accessing the legal representation she needed. The officers were too quick to have Ms. Washington submit to a field sobriety test, which she could have refused to undergo at the advice of her attorney.”