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Prosecutor argues judge’s decision to reduce felony to misdemeanor is illegal

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By RYNE R. MARTIN

CANTON - A St. Lawrence County assistant prosecutor argued this week that the county court judge’s decision to allow a Waddington man to vacate his felony plea following a rocky period on interim probation was illegal since his office hadn’t consented to the move.

St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards had sentenced Travis D. Wright, 31, of Waddington to three years’ probation and ordered him to pay $1,080 in fines, fees and surcharges after vacating his felony plea and allowing him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. His operating privileges were revoked for one year.

Wright admitted his operating privileges had been suspended in November 2009 for a drinking and driving conviction. He had been charged with a felony count of first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle when he was stopped by police May 22, 2010 on Tiernan Road in Waddington.

The Waddington man had been on interim probation for well over a year. His interim probation had been extended in December until this week after he had struggled during his first several months on interim probation.

Defense attorney Marcia Lemay said Wright had completed in-patient treatment since his December court appearance and remains engaged in outpatient treatment.

“It’s not uncommon for people on interim probation to struggle,” she noted.

Judge Richards said Wright has done everything he was supposed to do in 2012 and indicated he was prepared to grant him the plea bargain agreement allowing him to vacate his felony plea and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Jonathan L. Becker voiced his strong opposition to allowing Wright to vacate his felony plea, noting the plea bargain agreement had satisfied two driving while intoxicated charges.

“This case satisfied a slew of charges. He gets to sign off on the alcohol to something else. The reality is he already gets a massive benefit of this plea,” Mr. Becker said, noting he would not consent to having the felony reduced to a misdemeanor.

But the county court moved forward and allowed Wright to vacate his felony plea and plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge.

“The plea is unlawful,” Mr. Becker fumed.

Judge Richards countered the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office had agreed to the commitment of the court on Dec. 13, 2011.

“You have a say; you don’t have a veto. That’s the way it has been done since the beginning of interim probation,” Judge Richards said.

“It’s illegal. We’ll deal with it at the Appellate Division,” the assistant district attorney retorted, drawing a quick rebuke from the county court judge.

In other recent county court action:

■ Amanda K. Delosh, 32, of Massena, currently residing in a halfway house in Utica, was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $375 in court fees and surcharges for a second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument conviction. She was also ordered to make restitution of $2,292.

Defense attorney William Galvin noted his client had been placed on interim probation in December 2010 with an opportunity to vacate her felony plea and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge. But he acknowledged her behavior during her first several months on interim - positive drug tests and failing to successfully complete treatments - likely meant she no longer would be allowed to withdraw her felony, a successful prediction.

But, he pointed out, she had now completed a treatment program and an August report from her halfway house indicated she was doing well. He also noted she had tested negative for substance abuse use hours before sentencing.

“Thank you for the opportunity to turn my life around,” Delosh told the court. “I now have my mother and children back in my life. I’m doing really well.”

The Massena woman has been charged with stealing checks from her mother, Sally Hughes, while she was dealing with a family medical emergency in Burlington, Vt., and then writing nearly $2,000 worth of checks on the account during the first week of September 2010.

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