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Matter of Gold v. Gartenstein

Supreme Court, Criminal Term, Kings County
Jun 14, 1979
100 Misc. 2d 253 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1979)


June 14, 1979

Eugene Gold, District Attorney (Suzan Picariello of counsel), for petitioner.

Harvey Greenberg for Stanley Gartenstein, respondent.

Leon Polsky and Paul Carpenter for Darry P., respondent.

This is a proceeding brought to prohibit respondent, a Judge in the Criminal Court, from enforcing "an order directing that defendant, DARRY P., a person entitled to mandatory youthful offender treatment, receive a jury trial."

Defendant Darry P., age 16, is charged in an information with petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property arising out of an alleged purse snatching from Kathleen Whitty on March 18, 1978. Defendant is an eligible youth within CPL 720.10. Since both charges are misdemeanors, defendant is not entitled to a jury trial (CPL 340.40, subd 7). Defendant, nonetheless, moved before respondent Gartenstein for a trial by jury. Defendant claimed that CPL 340.40 (subd 7) violated his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury and also violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law.

In his opinion (People v Darry P., 96 Misc.2d 12), respondent granted the motion and declared CPL 340.40 (subd 7) unconstitutional. Respondent stated that the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights, the principle governing the predicate nature of youthful offender finding, and the defendant's right to treatment were violated by the statute. Petitioner then commenced this proceeding to prohibit respondent from enforcing his order.

The threshold question herein is whether a writ of prohibition is available to petitioner.

Petitioner claims he is entitled to protection because it is the "sole * * * remedy to redress the harm caused by respondent's disregard of the statutory mandate". In a reply affidavit, petitioner further claims that he is entitled to this relief because of the "ramifications of this decision which directly contravenes the espoused public policy of New York * * * [and] the compelling nature of the problem".

In Matter of State of New York v King ( 36 N.Y.2d 59), defendants moved for a directive entitling them to more than 20 peremptory challenges to veniremen in selecting a jury, a number in excess of that authorized by statute. The trial court granted defendants' motion and ruled that defendants were entitled to 30 challenges. However, it denied the People an equal number of challenges, and permitted them only 20 peremptory challenges. The People claiming that the determination was nonappealable sought a writ of prohibition. In denying the writ, the court said (at pp 62-63), "It is equally clear, however, that nonreviewability by way of appeal alone, does not provide a basis for reviewing error by collateral proceeding in the nature either of prohibition or mandamus [citations omitted]." (Emphasis supplied.)

Prohibition is available only when "`a court * * * acts or threatens to act without jurisdiction in a matter over which it has no power over the subject matter or where it exceeds its authorized powers in a proceeding over which it has jurisdiction'". (Matter of Steingut v Gold, 42 N.Y.2d 311, 315.) Even "constitutional issues involving errors of substantive or procedural law are not cognizable by way of prohibition". (La Rocca v Lane, 37 N.Y.2d 575, 580; Matter of Blake v Hogan, 25 N.Y.2d 747.) Clearly, respondent had subject matter jurisdiction over the issues. Thus, if prohibition is to be found, respondent must have acted in excess of his power. As stated in La Rocca v Lane (supra, at p 580), "there is no sharp line between a court acting in error under substantive law or procedural law and a court acting in excess of its powers".

In determining whether or not respondent acted in excess of his power or merely committed an error in substantive or procedural law, the court is guided by the principle that an inferior court should exercise restraint in declaring a statute unconstitutional (Matter of Van Berkel v Power, 16 N.Y.2d 37; Matter of Ahern v South Buffalo Ry. Co., 303 N.Y. 545; People v Estrada, 80 Misc.2d 608). When a court does not exercise such restraint and rules a statute unconstitutional where there is a rational basis for its constitutionality, it would appear to be a proper subject of prohibition (Matter of Vergari v Kendall, Index No. 544, Jan. 5, 1978, Supreme Ct, Westchester County).

Nonetheless, prohibition is not mandatory but is discretionary with the court (La Rocca v Lane, supra). In determining whether to exercise its discretion, this court considers the gravity of the harm, the remedies which may be available to petitioner, and the magnitude of the problem (La Rocca v Lane, supra).

The court finds that respondent, in directing a jury trial in contravention of the statute and where no constitutional right exists, acted in excess of his power, and the granting of a writ of prohibition is proper.

The right to trial by jury is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. In Duncan v Louisiana ( 391 U.S. 145), the court held that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed to defendants in State criminal trials the right to jury trial provided in the Sixth Amendment. The right to jury trial is not absolute. It does not extend to "petty" offenses (District of Columbia v Clawans, 300 U.S. 617; Frank v United States, 395 U.S. 147; Baldwin v New York, 399 U.S. 66; Cheff v Shnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373). The issue facing this court is to distinguish between petty and serious offenses, and to determine into which category youthful offender treatment belongs.

In Callan v Wilson ( 127 U.S. 540, 557), the court defined "petty" offenses as those "which, according to common law, may be proceeded against summarily". Thereafter, in District of Columbia v Colts ( 282 U.S. 63), the court stated (at p 73), "Whether a given offense is to be classified as a crime, so as to require a jury trial, or as a petty offense triable summarily without a jury, depends primarily on the nature of the offense." In District of Columbia v Clawans (supra), the court stated (at p 630), "We cannot say that this penalty, when attached to the offense * * * gives it the character of * * * a major offense." Thus, the court adopts a nature of offense and penalty standard. In Baldwin v New York (supra, p 68), the court refined this standard by calling punishment "the most relevant" criterion. Coming full circle the court, in Codispoti v Pennsylvania ( 418 U.S. 506, 512) stated "our decisions have established a fixed dividing line between petty and serious offenses: those crimes carrying a sentence of more than six months are serious crimes and those carrying a sentence of six months or less are petty crimes." Thus, the court apparently sets a six months' period of incarceration standard. Those crimes which carry a maximum period of six months or less are petty and those carrying a longer incarceration period are serious. However, in Ludwig v Massachusetts ( 427 U.S. 618, 629), the court said, "Our disposition * * * does not require us to disturb the holding in Callan v Wilson, 127 U.S. 540 * * *. The Court announced: `Except in that class or grade of offences called petty offences, which, according to the common law, may be proceeded against summarily'". The court cited with approval the standard first enunciated in Callan v Wilson (supra).

The courts appear to be divided on whether the "six months" period of incarceration standard or whether the common-law treatment or nature of offense and punishment standard is the law today. The following cases decided after Codispoti (supra) apparently adopt the "six month" period of incarceration standard: State of Nebraska v Young ( 194 Neb. 544); State of Florida v Webb ( 335 So.2d 826 [Fla]); City of Tampa v Ippilito ( 360 So.2d 1316 [Fla]); Justiniano Matos v Gaspar Rodriguez ( 440 F. Supp. 673); United States v F M C Corp. ( 428 F. Supp. 615); People v Trotman ( 98 Misc.2d 340); People v Joseph M. ( 84 Misc.2d 1046); People v Gray ( 97 Misc.2d 285); and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN in Scott v Illinois ( 440 U.S. 367, 389, 390). On the other hand, the following cases apparently adhere to either "common law" treatment or nature of offense plus punishment standard: City Ct. of City of Tucson v Lee ( 16 Ariz. App. 449 [cf. Goldman v Kautz, 111 Ariz. 431]); Parham v Municipal Ct. of City of Sioux Falls ( 86 S.D. 531); Baker v City of Fairbanks ( 471 P.2d 386 [Alaska]); United States v Davis ( 430 F. Supp. 1263) ; Brady v Blair ( 427 F. Supp. 5); United States v Newberne ( 427 F. Supp. 361); United States v Woods ( 450 F. Supp. 1335): United States v Merrick ( 459 F.2d 644, n 4); United States v Stewart ( 568 F.2d 501); United States v Sanchez-Meza ( 547 F.2d 461 [cf. United States v Hamden, 552 F.2d 276]); United States v Morrison ( 425 F. Supp. 1235); Raines v State of Alabama ( 552 F.2d 660); Matter of Felder ( 93 Misc.2d 369); and Mr. Justices BRENNAN, MARSHALL and STEVENS in Scott v Illinois (supra, at pp 380-381 "Moral stigma test").

The court believes that the dichotomy may be explained as follows: Where the crime is malum prohibitum, then the "six month" period of incarceration standard applies; however, where a crime is malum in se, the common-law treatment or nature of offense plus punishment standard should be applied (see United States v Newberne, supra; United States v Woods, supra; see, also, McQuillan, A Judge's Reply to Curb on Jury Trials, NYLJ, June 1, 1979, p 1, col 2).

The court finds that the crime of petit larceny is one which is malum in se. It will, thus, apply the common-law treatment or nature of offense plus punishment test to this matter.

As to common-law treatment — "the common law * * * treated infant offenders in the same manner as adults" (People v Cook, 37 N.Y.2d 591, 595). Thus, trial without jury for youths charged with a crime was prohibited. However, the common law did not have any category of youthful offenders.

As to the nature of the offense — youthful offender treatment is not a judgment of conviction for a crime (CPL 720.35; People v Cook, supra). "The primary advantage of such treatment [youthful offender] is the avoidance of the stigma and practical consequences which accompany a criminal conviction". (People v Cook, supra, p 595.) Also, all books, records and papers must be sealed and are only available under special circumstances (CPL 720.35, subd 2). On the other hand, the underlying facts of a particular youthful offender adjudication are considered "vicious, immoral, or illegal act[s]" so as to permit cross-examination of a defendant about such acts in order to impeach his credibility (People v Cook, supra, p 595; People v Schwartzman, 24 N.Y.2d 241; People v Kass, 25 N.Y.2d 123). Further, youthful offender treatment once granted cannot automatically be given again (CPL 720.10, subd 2, par [c]). It appears that since the offense is not criminal in nature, on balance, the nature of the offense is such as to permit summary proceedings.

As to the "most relevant factor" punishment — by the standards set forth under Federal statute, and those espoused by the court in Codispoti (supra), the six months' maximum incarceration would be sufficient to categorize the offense as petty. The fact that probation can be given to a youthful offender does not change the offense from petty to serious (Frank v United States, 395 U.S. 147, supra).

As stated by the court in Raines v State of Alabama ( 552 F.2d 660, 665-666, supra), "Based on the purposes of and substantive measures in the Act, we cannot say that our deference is unwarranted. Accordingly, we hold that the principles of McKeiver [McKeiver v Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528] extend to the * * * Youthful Offender Act and that no constitutional right to a jury trial attaches * * * [to] youthful offender determination." The court further stated (at p 666), "Counting and comparing, then, is not the solution * * * [T]he states are entitled to leeway in designing procedures to deal with specialized problems, such as the problem of the youth offender, as to the propriety, vel non, of providing a jury trial in those proceedings."

The court finds that CPL 340.40 (subd 7) does not violate defendant's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, as the crime alleged is a "petty" offense.

The respondent further argues that we should not sanction the "tailoring" of a statute to meet constitutional objections. The court cannot agree. In Taylor v Hayes ( 418 U.S. 488), during a murder trial, defendant was informed of nine different occasions that he was in contempt of court. At the conclusion of the trial, defendant was sentenced to consecutive sentences aggregating to almost four and a half years of imprisonment, including sentence of one year each on two counts. Subsequently, the lower court modified its own sentence, dismissing one contempt count, and reducing the sentence on the remaining counts to six months' incarceration on each without stating whether they were to run concurrently or consecutively. The Kentucky Court of Appeals further reduced the sentences so that all sentences would run concurrently. In approving this procedure the court said (at p 496), "It is argued that a State should not be permitted, after conviction, to reduce the sentence to less than six months and thereby obviate a jury trial. The thrust of our decisions, however, is to the contrary". If a court may "tailor a sentence" after its pronouncement to meet constitutional objections, a Legislature has the power to enact statutes which remove prospective constitutional objections.

Having found that the defendant is not constitutionally entitled to a jury trial, respondent's argument that the predicate nature of a youthful offender renders the statute unconstitutional must also fall. As conceded by respondent in his decision, "The concept of a predicate crime forming the basis for different treatment and/or punishment of a defendant has been upheld [citations omitted]. But basic to those holdings is the proposition that in order to serve as a predicate crime, an underlying conviction or finding must have been constitutionally rendered [citations omitted]" (People v Darry P., 96 Misc.2d 12, 26, supra). The statute conforming to constitutional dictates can be used as a predicate for different treatment.

Respondent's argument that the statute violates defendant's constitutional "right to treatment" is without merit. The right to treatment applies only where the State seeks to incarcerate a person through noncriminal procedures for noncriminal acts for the purpose of treatment (see Wyatt v Sticknoy, 325 F. Supp. 781). As stated in Donaldson v O'Connor ( 493 F.2d 507, 521, revd on other grounds 422 U.S. 563), "The key point of the first part of the theory of a due process right of treatment is that * * * the rationale for confinement is the `parens patriae' rationale that the patient is in need of treatment". The youthful offender statute does not seek as "parens patriae" to incarcerate a person for treatment, as do the juvenile acts, but to incarcerate him for his illegal activity.

As to defendant Darry P.'s equal protection argument, suffice it to say that the case of People v Drayton ( 39 N.Y.2d 580) is controlling. In that case, the Court of Appeals upheld the youthful offender statute as not being violative of the equal protection of the law clause of the Constitution.

Respondent having failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute is unconstitutional, the writ of prohibition is granted, and the stay is vacated.

Summaries of

Matter of Gold v. Gartenstein

Supreme Court, Criminal Term, Kings County
Jun 14, 1979
100 Misc. 2d 253 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1979)
Case details for

Matter of Gold v. Gartenstein

Case Details

Full title:In the Matter of EUGENE GOLD, as District Attorney of Kings County…

Court:Supreme Court, Criminal Term, Kings County

Date published: Jun 14, 1979


100 Misc. 2d 253 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1979)
418 N.Y.S.2d 852

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