SCHENECTADY COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Inmates all over the Capital Region are right now staking their claims to walk free once again. Thursday, NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton met with Schenectady County inmate Zaquan Walley who accepted guilty pleas to serve 12 years on two felony weapons possession charges stemming from incidents in 2015 and 2016.
“I didn’t know no better. I was also stressed out, I was going through it, I was fighting two cases, I’m looking at a whole lot of time. In my mind I thought I was looking at life,” Walley explains of why he chose to plead guilty.
Walley explains he was pulled over and arrested for a weapons possession charge in 2015 — a Class C felony. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney tells NEWS10 Walley made bail, but was then arrested again in June 2016 after a search warrant revealed even more weapons in his home.
A loophole in the law now allows Walley to appeal his case. Walley initially plead to one indictment and agreed to waive the other indictment in favor of a Supreme Court Information.
Although Walley agreed to waive his right to appeal, the waiver submitted with his Supreme Court Information agreement detailed Walley’s alleged crime with the date and location — but was missing a time.
“The court found that the waiver was invalid and that the plea was invalid and because he pled guilty to two different incidents, when that happens if it’s sort of a combined plea, the court vacates both pleas even though there was no issue with the charges under the indictment,” Schenectady County Assistant District Attorney Peter Willis explains to NEWS10.
However, a judge set Walley’s new bail at $300,000 — an amount he claims violates New York State’s new bail reform’s provisions against “undue hardship”.
“My family can’t even make that bail. That’s more than what my whole family makes in a year,” he says.
District Attorney Carney says this is a prime example — the new bail reform still leaves it to a judge’s discretion how high to set bail for those charges labeled “violent crimes.” He says Walley’s history before his 2016 arrest likely played a factor.
“He was a convicted felon for weapons, he gets another one, so the judge sets a $150,000 bail. He makes it, but while he’s out on bail, six more loaded weapons are recovered in a search warrant executed at his home,” he explains.
Walley claims he’ll still fight to use the new bail laws to help prepare his own defense.
“This county jail don’t have no law library,” he explains. “Plus our counsels have a heavy case file, a lot of lawyers do. So you just need to help the lawyer help you. That’s why you need to be out there to be able to do your own research, to be able to understand what it is that they’re saying in the courtroom, because we don’t go to school like they do.”
District Attorney Carney says his office is prepared to keep Walley behind bars.
“The complication here is the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has now in another case reversed that finding and says you don’t have to have the actual time,” he says referencing the error in Walley’s SCI waiver. “We believe the law has changed in a way that doesn’t favor Walley’s position and we may re-litigate this case.”
“Six weapons recovered by a search warrant in his home — he can contest the search warrant certainly — but other than that, there’s not a lot of mystery in that case,” Carney concludes.