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People v. Calbud, Inc.

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Feb 14, 1980
49 N.Y.2d 389 (N.Y. 1980)

Summary

In People v Calbud, Inc. (49 NY2d 389), the Court of Appeals made plain that the prosecution only needs to provide the grand jury with enough information to enable it "intelligently to decide whether a crime has been committed and to determine whether there exists legally sufficient evidence to establish the material elements of the crime."

Summary of this case from People v. Pacheco

Opinion

Argued January 8, 1980

Decided February 14, 1980

Appeal from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department, ARTHUR W. LONSCHEIN, J.

John J. Santucci, District Attorney (James Clark Quinn of counsel), for appellant.

Seymour S. Detsky and Herbert S. Kassner for T.Q. Theatre Corp. and others, respondents. Harry H. Burstein and Stanley H. Fischer for Meridian Time Corp. and another, respondents.

Edward Gasthalter for Evsten Theatres, Inc., and others, respondents.



The People appeal from an order of the Appellate Division, which affirmed a decision of Supreme Court dismissing the indictments against defendants. The sole question presented by the People's appeal is whether the District Attorney's legal instruction to the Grand Jury impaired the integrity of that body's deliberations and thereby rendered the indictments "defective" within the meaning of CPL 210.20 (subd 1, par [c]; see CPL 210.35, subd 5).

The indictments charged defendants with having individually committed the crime of obscenity in the second degree (Penal Law, § 235.05). Under subdivision 1 of section 235.00 of the Penal Law, any material or performance may be found to be obscene if "the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to the prurient interest in sex". Attempting to fulfill his obligation to provide legal guidance to the Grand Jury (CPL 190.25, subd 6), the District Attorney instructed that body on the law of obscenity by reciting this statutory definition virtually verbatim. He neglected to advise the Grand Jury, however, that the material before it would have to be judged "obscene" from the viewpoint of the average person applying State-wide "contemporary community standards" (People v Heller, 33 N.Y.2d 314, 322-323). When this omission became apparent as a result of defendants' motion to inspect the Grand Jury minutes (see CPL 210.30), the trial court promptly dismissed the indictments as defective on the ground that the erroneous legal instruction had impaired the integrity of the Grand Jury (CPL 210.20, subd 1, par [c]; 210.35, subd 5). This determination was affirmed by the Appellate Division. We conclude, however, that the decisions below must be reversed.

We note at the outset that we are not persuaded by the People's contention that the State-wide standard for obscenity articulated in People v Heller ( 33 N.Y.2d 314, supra) should be modified. Although the United States Supreme Court has indicated that the issue of what constitutes obscenity may be determined with reference to local community standards (Jenkins v Georgia, 418 U.S. 153, 157), we remain convinced that the rule established in Heller is the most effective approach to closing the door on censorship "by local authorities * * * who would [otherwise] be free to form their own notions as to what constitute[s] patently offensive material" (People v Heller, supra, at p 322). For this reason, we decline the People's invitation to reconsider Heller, and we reaffirm our view that the contemporary standards of communities throughout the State are the proper measure of what is "obscene" within the meaning of our Penal Law.

This conclusion, however, does not end the inquiry in the present case. While it is true that the legal instructions given to the Grand Jury were incomplete in light of Heller, it does not necessarily follow that the resulting indictments should have been dismissed as defective. The primary function of the Grand Jury in our system is to investigate crimes and determine whether sufficient evidence exists to accuse a citizen of a crime and subject him or her to criminal prosecution (see, e.g., People v Van Dusen, 56 Misc.2d 107; People v McAdoo, 45 Misc.2d 664, affd 51 Misc.2d 263, cert den 386 U.S. 1031; People v Vosburg, 21 Misc.2d 372; see CPL 190.05, 190.65, subd 1). In the ordinary case, it may be said that the Grand Jury has properly carried out this function when it has issued an indictment upon evidence that is legally sufficient to establish that the accused committed a crime (CPL 190.65, subd 1). The Grand Jury is not, of course, charged with the ultimate responsibility of determining the guilt or innocence of the accused (see, e.g., People v Van Dusen, supra; People v Vosburg, supra). That duty, in our system, resides with the petit jury, which has the obligation of assessing the evidence in light of the applicable legal rules and determining whether the People have proven the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

Given this functional difference between the two bodies, it would be unsound to measure the adequacy of the legal instructions given to the Grand Jury by the same standards that are utilized in assessing a trial court's instructions to a petit jury. Indeed, the difference in the extent and quality of the legal instructions that must be given to the two bodies is reflected in the Criminal Procedure Law, which, on the one hand, directs the court or District Attorney to give legal instruction to the Grand Jury only "[w]here necessary or appropriate" (CPL 190.25, subd 6), but, on the other hand, requires a Judge presiding over a trial before a petit jury to state in detail "the fundamental legal principles applicable to criminal cases in general" as well as "the material legal principles applicable to the particular case" and "the application of the law to the facts" (CPL 300.10, subd 2). In view of the divergent functions of the two bodies, we hold that a Grand Jury need not be instructed with the same degree of precision that is required when a petit jury is instructed on the law. We deem it sufficient if the District Attorney provides the Grand Jury with enough information to enable it intelligently to decide whether a crime has been committed and to determine whether there exists legally sufficient evidence to establish the material elements of the crime.

In the ordinary case, this standard may be met by reading to the Grand Jury from the appropriate sections of the Penal Law (see People v Lawson, 84 Misc.2d 24, 28; People v Dingle, 70 Misc.2d 840, 844).

This lesser standard was clearly met in the present case. The District Attorney adequately informed the Grand Jurors of the essential elements of the crimes they were being asked to consider by reading the applicable provisions of the Penal Law, including the statutory definition of obscenity. While his failure to furnish complete instructions regarding the proper legal standard for assessing obscenity would have been fatal if a determination of guilt hinged upon the instruction, it cannot be said that the omission was so significant in the context of the Grand Jury's deliberations as to prejudice the interests of the defendants and render the indictments legally defective. Hence, it was error for the trial court to dismiss the indictments on this ground alone.

We note that we do not intend to suggest by our holding in this case that inadequate or incorrect legal instructions to the Grand Jury would never constitute grounds for dismissing an indictment as defective under CPL 210.35 (subd 5). To the contrary, we recognize that there may be situations in which the instructions to the Grand Jury are so misleading that the indictment could not be permitted to stand even though it is supported by legally sufficient evidence (see Denzer, Practice Commentary, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 11A, CPL 210.35, pp 384-385). It is well established that a citizen cannot be haled into court and tried for an infamous crime unless he has first been indicted by a Grand Jury which has had the opportunity to consider the evidence against him (NY Const, art I, § 6; see People v Iannone, 45 N.Y.2d 589, 593; Matter of Simonson v Cahn, 27 N.Y.2d 1, 4-5). Indeed, the Grand Jury historically has acted as a buffer between the State and its citizens, protecting the latter from unfounded and arbitrary accusations (see, e.g., Gerstein v Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 117, n 19; United States v Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 342-343; Matter of Keenan v Gigante, 47 N.Y.2d 160, 167-168; People v Iannone, supra, at p 594). When the District Attorney's instructions to the Grand Jury are so incomplete or misleading as to substantially undermine this essential function, it may fairly be said that the integrity of that body has been impaired. Under such circumstances, CPL 210.35 (subd 5) as well as our State constitutional guarantees might well require dismissal of the Grand Jury's indictments. In contrast, where, as here, the District Attorney omits information which would be essential for the petit jury's determination of guilt but which is not essential to the Grand Jury's less exacting responsibility of determining whether a prima facie case exists, it is inappropriate to dismiss the indictments on the ground specified in CPL 210.35 (subd 5).

The result might have been different here, for example, had the District Attorney provided the Grand Jury with erroneous and misleading instructions in response to a request from that body for clarification or amplification of the meaning of the phrase "contemporary community standards".

[4] We note that, although the right to an indictment ordinarily cannot be waived (see Matter of Simonson v Cahn, 27 N.Y.2d 1, 4), our State Constitution now provides for a limited exception to this rule. Under this constitutional provision, "a person held for the action of a grand jury upon a charge for [an infamous] offense, other than one punishable by death or life imprisonment, with the consent of the district attorney, may waive indictment by a grand jury and consent to be prosecuted on an information filed by the district attorney" (NY Const, art I, § 6; see People v Iannone, 45 N.Y.2d 589, 593, n 4).

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, the indictments reinstated and the case remitted for further proceedings on the indictments.


While I concur in the result I cannot accept the dictum in the majority's analysis. Whether the standard to be applied is State-wide is not an issue necessary to be determined in this case, if at all, and for me it is reason enough to avoid doing so that though the statutory definition of "obscene" set forth in subdivision 1 of section 235.00 of the Penal Law was adopted after People v Heller ( 33 N.Y.2d 314, cert den 418 U.S. 944) was decided the Legislature did not include the word "statewide" in that definition. While that does not necessarily mean that "community" as used in the definition does not mean "state" or that the Legislature did not use "community" in order to leave exact definition to the courts, there is at least some suggestion of other possibilities in the omission when it is recalled that the 1974 revision was adopted by the Legislature in response to our statement in Heller (33 N.Y.2d, at p 331) that "it is within the province of the Legislature to determine whether the less stringent test of obscenity laid down in that case [Miller v California, 413 U.S. 15] should now become the ultimate formula to be applied in New York", and that in approving the act which became chapter 989 of the Laws of 1974 Governor Wilson stated that it brought the obscenity provisions of the Penal Law "into conformity with the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Miller v. California." (NY Legis Ann, 1974, p 416.)

See, also, footnote 4 to Judge WACHTLER'S dissent in People v Heller ( 33 N.Y.2d 314, 341), reading: "Another reason why I think we should leave the rewriting of an obscenity statute to the Legislature is to allow it to define what community is encompassed by the term `community standards' in part (b) of the Miller formulation (413 U.S., at p. 25). The majority of our court today has defined community in terms of the entire State. I think that question should be decided by the Legislature after hearings have been held on the matter."

It is enough for decision of the present appeal to note that reading of the statutory definition to the Grand Jury will normally be sufficient unless it can be said that because of the complexity of the matter the failure to do more impaired the integrity of the indictment and created a possibility of prejudice to defendant (People v Rallo, 39 N.Y.2d 217, affg 46 A.D.2d 518; People v Percy, 38 N.Y.2d 806, affg 45 A.D.2d 284; People v Banner, 59 A.D.2d 621). Since, as the majority notes the function of the Grand Jury is to decide only whether a prima facie case has been made out, not guilt or innocence, and the standard is simply a means of testing the appeal of the material involved to prurient interest in sex, its indictment of defendant using a community standard cannot be said to prejudice him even if the ultimate determination is that for conviction the jury must be instructed to apply a State-wide standard. The more so is that true when one recalls that juries regularly apply the standard of the reasonable man without being told the limits of the community which that fictional person inhabits, and that what is here to be applied is the standard of the "average person, applying contemporary community standards".

Chief Judge COOKE and Judges JONES and FUCHSBERG concur with Judge GABRIELLI; Judge MEYER concurs in a separate opinion in which Judges JASEN and WACHTLER concur.

Order reversed, etc.


Summaries of

People v. Calbud, Inc.

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Feb 14, 1980
49 N.Y.2d 389 (N.Y. 1980)

In People v Calbud, Inc. (49 NY2d 389), the Court of Appeals made plain that the prosecution only needs to provide the grand jury with enough information to enable it "intelligently to decide whether a crime has been committed and to determine whether there exists legally sufficient evidence to establish the material elements of the crime."

Summary of this case from People v. Pacheco

In People v Calbud, Inc. (49 N.Y.2d 389), an obscenity prosecution, the District Attorney failed to instruct the grand jurors upon the appropriate "statewide" standard in determining whether the offending materials were in fact obscene.

Summary of this case from People v. Goetz

In Calbud, the Court held that a grand jury instruction reciting virtually verbatim the statutory definition of the term “obscene” was legally sufficient, even though the prosecutor did not advise the Grand Jury, as a petit jury would have to be told, that it had to judge the allegedly obscene material from the viewpoint of the average person applying statewide contemporary community standards.

Summary of this case from People v. Van Zandt

comparing CPL § 190.25 with CPL § 300.10 other citations omitted

Summary of this case from People v. Burnett

In Calbud, the Court of Appeals noted, "In the ordinary case, this standard may be met by reading to the Grand Jury from the appropriate sections of the Penal Law."

Summary of this case from People v. Crooks

In People v Calbud, Inc. (49 N.Y.2d 389, 394, supra) the Court of Appeals noted that due to the "functional difference" between the Grand Jury and a petit jury "it would be unsound to measure the adequacy of the legal instructions given to the Grand Jury by the same standards that are utilized in assessing a trial court's instructions to a petit jury."

Summary of this case from People v. Malave

In People v Calbud, Inc. (49 N.Y.2d 389, 394) the Court of Appeals stated: "[I]t would be unsound to measure the adequacy of the legal instructions given to the Grand Jury by the same standards that are utilized in assessing a trial court's instruction to a petit jury.

Summary of this case from People v. Jobson
Case details for

People v. Calbud, Inc.

Case Details

Full title:THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Appellant, v. CALBUD, INC., Doing…

Court:Court of Appeals of the State of New York

Date published: Feb 14, 1980

Citations

49 N.Y.2d 389 (N.Y. 1980)
426 N.Y.S.2d 238
402 N.E.2d 1140

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