Almost all contested cases in East Hampton Town Justice Court are settled by plea bargain, whether they involve a traffic ticket or a serious criminal charge where jail time is in the offing. In the latter case, the process is a delicate one that can go awry, as has happened twice in recent weeks.
Carlos A. Guaman of Springs, 37, was arrested on May 31 and again on Aug. 17 on misdemeanor charges of drunken driving. His blood-alcohol count was high enough in the August incident, according to East Hampton Town police, that the charge was raised to the “aggravated” level. He also faces two counts of unlicensed driving, one of them a felony charge.
Unable to meet bail of $2,500 after the second arrest, and with a hold placed on him by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mr. Guaman was held for several days in the county jail in Yaphank. He was brought back to court on Aug. 21.
After speaking with his Legal Aid attorney, Brian Francese, who in turn had huddled with Rob Archer of the county district attorney’s office, he agreed to plead guilty in return for a 30-day sentence. At the end of that time, I.C.E. would have the option to begin deportation proceedings or cut the defendant loose.
But nobody had checked with Justice Steven Tekulsky, who was on the bench for both of Mr. Guaman’s arraignments.
“I am shocked that the people would be willing to settle for 30 days,” Justice Tekulsky said sternly. Mr. Guaman, he said, appeared to have no respect either for the law or the court, having been specifically warned not to drive following his first arrest. “I am not agreeing that he is only going to do 30 days,” Justice Tekulsky announced.
Back went Mr. Guaman to jail, where he met with a court-appointed immigration attorney. He is due back in Justice Court today.
The second deal that ended up being no deal involved the case of James E. Wyeth of East Hampton, 48, who was first arrested on July 10 following an altercation with his girlfriend. “He started yelling at me, saying I annoyed him,” she told police in a statement. He began to choke her, she said, and “I thought I was going to pass out. I grabbed a glass ashtray and hit him in the head with it.” Mr. Wyeth was charged with obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor.
On Aug. 17 in Southampton Justice Court, after pleading guilty to an unrelated charge of assault, Mr. Wyeth was sentenced to nine months’ incarceration. On Aug. 21 he appeared for sentencing on the choking charge in the East Hampton court.
This time, Mr. Francese and Mr. Archer agreed that Mr. Wyeth would plead guilty on the East Hampton charge and serve six months — concurrent with the nine months imposed in Southampton. This was agreeable to Justice Tekulsky, and Mr. Wyeth was brought before the bench.
When it came time to enter his plea, though, he had a change of heart. “No, I didn’t do it,” he said. “Excuse me, your honor.”
Now concerned that the defendant, who at one point had said he was “taking psych meds,” did not understand what was happening, Justice Tekulsky adjourned the case. Mr. Wyeth, too, will reappear in court today.
“Take care, your honor,” he said as he was led away.