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Federal judge dismisses man’s claim he is being illegally imprisoned for Watertown stabbing

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CARTHAGE — A federal judge has rejected a former Carthage man’s claims that he is being unlawfully incarcerated for stabbing a man outside a downtown Watertown restaurant in 2009.

Miguel A. Jaramillo, 39, is serving an 18-year prison sentence at Attica Correctional Facility after being found guilty in Jefferson County Court in January 2011 of first-degree assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree perjury.

A jury ruled that he stabbed Lloyd P. Little, Sackets Harbor, with a knife on Oct. 18, 2009, outside the now-closed Tico’s Mex Mex Grill, 65 Public Square. The jury also found him guilty of lying to a grand jury investigating the matter.

Mr. Little, a bouncer at Tico’s, had attempted to intervene after seeing an argument between Mr. Jaramillo and his girlfriend. Mr. Little testified he also observed Mr. Jaramillo threaten an unidentified customer with a knife. He grabbed Mr. Jaramillo’s wrist and, after a struggle, Mr. Jaramillo fell to the ground. When he rose, he lunged at Mr. Little and stabbed him in the abdomen, causing a 6- to 8-inch-long wound. The knife also lacerated Mr. Little’s liver. He has recovered.

Mr. Jaramillo filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus in November 2012 in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, asking that either his convictions be reversed or an indictment containing the charges against him be dismissed.

Mr. Jaramillo contended in his federal action, among other things, that he was denied the right to a fair trial because numerous errors were made in his case in County Court. Among the complaints was that Mr. Jaramillo repeatedly requested that a public defender assigned to him be replaced, which the court refused to do. Mr. Jaramillo ended up representing himself during the trial, with assistance from a public defender.

He also claimed that prior to the dismissal of his counsel, his attorney waived his right to a speedy trial without Mr. Jaramillo’s knowledge or consent and no record of his approving the waiver exists.

In a 35-page decision rendered Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. rejected each of Mr. Jaramillo’s contentions. Judge Singleton ruled that a defendant’s request for new counsel is not sufficient reason to appoint a new attorney; the defendant must provide the court with legitimate reasons for the change.

Even though Mr. Jaramillo had filed a federal lawsuit against the public defender’s office, Judge Singleton agreed with a state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, finding that a substitution of counsel was not warranted “based on (Jaramillo’s) apparent attempt to create a conflict of interest” by initiating the federal action. The judge found that Mr. Jaramillo did not show that the public defender’s representation of him, either before the trial or as “shadow” counsel at trial, fell below any objective standard of reasonableness or that he suffered any prejudice as a result of the representation.

Judge Singleton further ruled, citing case law, that, although there are some rights that an attorney cannot waive without a defendant’s direct consent, an attorney “has — and must have — full authority to manage the conduct of the trial.” He wrote that an attorney can waive speedy trial rights because things such as scheduling matters “are plainly among those (rights) for which agreement by counsel generally controls.”

Judge Singleton also found that Mr. Jaramillo was properly advised in County Court of the potential perils of representing himself and that Mr. Jaramillo “clearly and unequivocally declared that he wanted to represent himself.” Any potential problems Mr. Jaramillo may have encountered by doing so also were mitigated by appointing the public defender to assist him at trial, Judge Singleton wrote.

Mr. Jaramillo had raised similar arguments in an appeal to the state Appellate Division, which upheld his convictions in a ruling issued in July 2012. The court also ruled his punishment was not unduly harsh or severe.

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