BUFFALO, N.Y. - More than a decade ago, Dr. Anthony Pignataro was well-known in Western New York. The Amherst physician was famous for inventing snap-on hair pieces, then infamous for trying to kill his own wife.
Sedita was the trial prosecutor back then. He made a plea with Pignataro, who could have gotten 25 years in prison if convicted at trial. Instead, his plea bargain meant he got only 15 years behind bars.
When Sedita became the elected District Attorney, he took the process a step further by making defendants not only say out loud they wouldn't appeal, but to also require they sign a document waiving their rights.
Among those who have signed the documents is Danielle Kellogg. In 2012, she was driving while drunk and on drugs when she crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a car. Inside that car was Denise Hine and her 7-month-old daughter Baylee, who didn't survive.
In the majority of the cases, the appeals court wrote a short response, saying the defendants "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived the right to appeal." But Sedita said it took a lot of work to get to that simple conclusion.
Coughlin correctly points out that the waiver doesn't apply to some issues, like the defendant's competency or the legality of the sentence, among others. No matter what, the appellate court must consider those appeals. And Coughlin said Legal Aid attorneys don't intentionally pursue cases they know they'll lose. In the end, it's the client's call.
"No choice at all," Coughlin responded. "We can explain to them they have no chance of winning, explain that we don't see what the issue is, but they do have this one... right to appeal. We have to comply, and that's our job."
But local courts made some errors. In one case, the guilty plea was vacated. In at least one other, the defendant will get less prison time when he is resentenced. Several other rulings require additional hearings take place or motions be considered before the local court.
The bottom line is that the Constitution guarantees someone convicted of a crime to at least one appeal if they choose. Many who plead guilty choose not to exercise that right, because they are pleased with the bargain they got. However many others do appeal.
Both men, who are well-respected in the legal community, mentioned their respect for the other, and Sedita pointed out several times that he believes every indigent defendant has a Constitutional right to competent counsel free of charge if he or she cannot afford it.