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Man jailed for cocaine sale seeks to reverse conviction

An attorney for a Long Beach man jailed for cocaine sale and possession has asked a state appeals court to reverse his conviction, stating prosecutors did not disclose drug testing errors at the Nassau police lab before he pleaded guilty.

Attorney Mark Diamond of Manhattan filed the appeal with the state Appellate Division in Brooklyn on behalf of Christopher Huggins, 37, of Long Beach. The case was on the court's calendar for Feb. 21; oral arguments were not presented.

A response filed by District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office states Huggins provided no evidence that prosecutors knew about the crime lab's mistakes before he pleaded guilty in 2009 in State Supreme Court in Nassau.

Long Beach police arrested Huggins for drug sale and possession in 2008.

Diamond says Huggins did not learn about the lab's errors until after they were publicly disclosed in December 2010.

Diamond's brief cites the landmark Brady v. Maryland case in which the U.S. Supreme Court said prosecutors must give defendants material favorable to their cases.

"The Supreme Court held that a prosecutor must provide a defendant with any evidence favorable to the accused," Diamond states.

But Assistant District Attorney Kevin King argues in his response: "Even assuming, without factual support, that there were deficient practices at the crime lab in 2008 or 2009, defendant points to no evidence that the prosecutor was in 'possession or control' of information concerning those practices prior to defendant's guilty plea."

Rice has said she did not know about the lab's problems until 2010, when an accrediting agency found them. In February 2011, Rice and County Executive Edward Mangano closed the lab. The evidence retesting is continuing at a private lab in Pennsylvania.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services drafted a 2008 letter to Rice and others about the police lab's problems but the state inspector general found in 2011 it appeared the division never sent it.

In 2011, Rice ordered retesting of felony drug evidence in cases dating back to 2007.

Huggins' evidence was not retested because the Long Beach police destroyed it after his guilty plea to third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and seventh-degree criminal possession.

Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said the city's policy is to destroy drug evidence after a guilty plea or after appeals have been exhausted.

Diamond also said in his brief the lower court did not adequately advise Huggins of his statutory rights but the district attorney's brief says he was properly advised.

The court had agreed to let Huggins enter an outpatient drug treatment program for 18 months. If he completed the program his felony drug sale conviction was to be vacated.

But on Dec. 21, 2010, Huggins tested positive for cocaine and in 2012 was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 2 years of post-release supervision for the felony.

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