ALBANY -- The state's highest court Thursday ordered a new trial for a man convicted on drug charges in Riverhead Town Court because the local justice failed to adequately warn the suspect about the dangers of representing himself without a lawyer.

In a 7-0 ruling, the Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of Alexander Crampe for possessing PCP in 2007 and ordered a new trial in Suffolk County.

Writing for the court, Judge Susan Read said Riverhead Town Justice Allen Smith merely had read aloud a form warning Crampe that proceeding without a lawyer brought a risk of conviction.

That wasn't enough to meet a judge's obligation in such a situation, Read said. Smith should have made a "searching inquiry" into whether a defendant fully understood the impacts of giving up right to counsel and that he would be held to the same standards as a lawyer.

Read said Smith "did not make the requisite searching inquiry to insure that . . . [Crampe] was aware of the drawbacks of self-representation before allowing him to go down that path."

A jury convicted Crampe and he was sentenced to 6 months in jail -- which he has already served -- and a $165 fine.

Before the Riverhead trial, Crampe's mother had asked the court to order a psychiatric evaluation of him. She told the court he suffered from depression and that his decision to forgo an attorney wasn't rational because he had no legal background. According to court records, Smith told the mother he had "no other alternatives"

Crampe finished serving his sentence in January 2009 -- 33 months before his conviction was overturned.

"He's already served his time -- that's the bad part," said Adrienne Wallace, a Legal Aid Society lawyer who appealed the conviction for Crampe. "But the good part is that we won the case. Hopefully, the [prosecutor] now will see the wisdom of dismissing it."

Lawyers for the Suffolk County district attorney's office, which fought to uphold the conviction, didn't immediately return calls to comment.

Cop rescues dogs … Flags at Calverton National Cemetery … Nick Zamperion Credit: Newsday

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Cop rescues dogs … Flags at Calverton National Cemetery … Nick Zamperion Credit: Newsday

BusPatrol politics ... Memorial Day parades ... No Blue Angels on Sunday ... Service dogs in the Air Force 

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