Court of Appeals orders new trial for Riverhead man

A new trial has been ordered for a Riverhead man convicted of a drug possession charge in 2008 because the Court of Appeals — the highest court in the state — found the town justice did not adequately warn him of the dangers of representing himself in court.

A seven-judge Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled to throw out 34-year-old Alexander Crampe’s conviction of a PCP possession charge because Judge Allen Smith only read a form and did not “make the requisite searching inquiry to insure that defendant was aware of the drawbacks of self-representation,” meaning he did not press the defendant beyond reading the form, according to a copy of the ruling.

When Judge Smith asked Mr. Crampe if he intended to proceed without council, the defendant replied “I guess so, your Honor,” according to the ruling.

Judge Smith then read a form aloud explaining the dangers of self representation. He then told the defendant “be here with a lawyer or without a lawyer, as you choose. I advise you to get a lawyer, sir,” the ruling states.

Mr. Crampe returned to court without an attorney and was convicted of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to six months in jail and fined $165 in November 2008.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted the original case, said only, “The court carefully considered the judge’s actions and ordered a new trial.”

Judge Smith said Friday morning that he cannot comment on the case, since it’s coming back to his court for trial.

The 2008 conviction was not Mr. Crampe’s first run-in with local authorities. Police records indicate he has been picked up on a slew of charges over the years. He was stopped by town police in 2008 and authorities found eight loose 9-mm bullets in his 2004 Cadillac Escalade SUV.

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