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Court Discusses Jurisiction on Domestic Violence Cases

Defendant was charged with, inter alia, harassment in the second degree based on numerous harassing and threatening telephone calls he allegedly made to his former paramour, with whom he had two children.
On 18 January 2007, a misdemeanor complaint was filed charging the defendant with, inter alia, aggravated harassment in the second degree (three counts).
By order dated 31 January 2007, the action was transferred from the Criminal Court, Kings County, to the Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Part of the Supreme Court, Kings County. The misdemeanor complaint was converted to an Information by the complainant’s attestation dated 7 February 2007. After a nonjury trial, the court convicted the defendant of three counts of attempted aggravated harassment in the second degree.

Defendant argues for the first time on appeal that the IDV Part of the Supreme Court, to which his case was transferred from the Criminal Court, lacked jurisdiction over the instant matter because neither a grand jury indictment nor a superior court information was filed by a district attorney, as required by law, and he never waived his right to an indictment by a grand jury.

Moreover, the defendant contends that there was no legislative mandate authorizing the transfer.
As a threshold matter, the court agrees with the defendant that his contention regarding the jurisdiction of the IDV Part may properly be raised for the first time on appeal. The preservation rule does not apply to errors that affect the organization of the court or the mode of proceedings prescribed by law. The Court of Appeals has held that, in general, errors that fall under the exception exist where the court had no jurisdiction, or where the right to trial by jury was disregarded, or where there was a fundamental, nonwaivable defect in the mode of procedure. The exception to the general rule was created “to ensure that criminal trials are conducted in accordance with the mode of procedure mandated by Constitution and statute. However, the exception only applies to errors that go to the essential validity of the process and are so fundamental that the entire trial is irreparably tainted.

The Supreme Court has general original jurisdiction in law and equity and is competent to entertain all causes of action unless its jurisdiction has been specifically proscribed. Any attempt by the Legislature to abridge, limit or qualify this broad jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is unconstitutional and void.

In a criminal action, the superior courts, which include the Supreme Court and the County Court, have trial jurisdiction of all felony offenses. The local criminal courts’ concurrent jurisdiction of misdemeanors is subject to divestiture by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has preliminary jurisdiction of all offenses but exercises such jurisdiction only by reason of and through the agency of grand juries.

On another note, the IDV Parts 2 were created pursuant to an Administrative Order of the Chief Judge dated 6 January 2004, an Administrative Order of the Chief Administrative Judge dated 12 January 2004, Part 41 of the Rules of the Chief Judge, and Part 141 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts. The rules provide for the transfer to IDV Parts of the Supreme Court of any case pending in another court in the same county.

Authority for the transfer of misdemeanor cases to the IDV Parts of the Supreme Court is found under N.Y. Constitution which provides that the Chief Judge may establish standards and administrative policies for general application throughout the state; that the Legislature has the power to regulate practice and procedure. Pursuant to that authority, Judiciary Law provides, in pertinent part, as follows: “The chief judge, after consultation with the administrative board, shall establish standards and administrative policies for general application to the unified court system throughout the state, including but not limited to standards and administrative policies relating to: the dispatch of judicial business, the designation of administrative judges, hours of court, assignment of terms and judges, transfer of judges and causes among the courts of the unified court system, the assignment and reassignment of administrative functions performed by judicial and nonjudicial personnel, the need for additional judicial or nonjudicial personnel, and the publication of judicial opinions.

Judiciary Law provides the Chief Judge with constitutional authority to regulate the transfer of cases among the courts.

Furthermore, N.Y. Constitution gives the Supreme Court the authority to transfer cases to itself.
Generally, constitutional provisions are presumptively self-executing. However, this Court has held that, in view of the phrase “as may be provided by law”, the power of removal conferred by is not self-executing. In any event, as the People correctly contend, Judiciary Law, as implemented by the rules promulgated by the Chief Judge and the Chief Administrative Judge pursuant to authority derived from the New York State Constitution, provides statutory authority for the transfer of misdemeanor cases to IDV Parts. Stated differently, the court holds that Judiciary Law satisfies the “as may be provided by law” requirement of N.Y. Constitution.

Therefore, there is no merit to the defendant’s contention that a lack of legislative authority forecloses the Supreme Court’s exercise of its removal power under that constitutional provision.
However, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over both felonies and misdemeanors, the New York State Legislature enacted CPL 210.05, entitled “Indictment and superior court information exclusive methods of prosecution.” It provides that the only methods for prosecuting an offense in a superior court are by an indictment filed therewith by a grand jury or by a superior court information filed therewith by a district attorney.

Does CPL 210.05 deprive the Supreme Court of trial jurisdiction over a misdemeanor case?
CPL 210.05 is procedural in nature and does not limit the jurisdiction of superior courts. The Legislature has never had the power to limit directly the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and cannot do so indirectly through the promulgation of a procedural rule. Indeed, we note that, since the creation of the IDV Part in 2004, the Legislature has not sought to undo the creation of that Part. Moreover, it has been held that CPL 210.05 was only intended to “circumscribe a prosecutor’s ability to invoke a superior court’s jurisdiction” and that the statute cannot be read as a limitation on Supreme Court’s historical and constitutional power to preside over misdemeanor cases.

The court finds that CPL 210.05 merely prescribes the method and manner required for a prosecutor to prosecute an offense in a superior court, rather than imposing a limitation on the superior court’s constitutional jurisdiction over such a case. In any event, the court holds that CPL 210.05 was not intended to prohibit the Supreme Court from exercising its jurisdiction under the New York State Constitution, nor can it.

Accordingly, the court holds that CPL 210.05 does not preclude the IDV Part of the Supreme Court from exercising its jurisdiction under the New York State Constitution to try misdemeanor charges against a defendant in the absence of an indictment or a superior court information.
Once the defendant’s case was transferred to the IDV Part pursuant to Judiciary Law, as implemented by the rules promulgated by the Chief Judge and the Chief Administrative Judge pursuant to authority derived from the New York State Constitution, his case was properly handled pursuant to the appropriate substantive and procedural rules of that court. Thus, a reversal of the judgment of conviction and dismissal of the charges on that ground is not warranted.

It must be noted that the Court of Appeals is poised to determine whether it is improper for the Supreme Court to transfer non-indicted misdemeanors from the Criminal Court to itself.
Meanwhile, there exists a secondary issue raised by the defendant, that is, whether the Supreme Court erred in not declaring a mistrial when the prosecutor elicited from the complainant an allegation that the defendant committed an uncharged crime. The defendant’s contention is unpreserved for appellate review as defense counsel failed to move for a mistrial after the court sustained his objection. In any event, the court presumes that, at the instant nonjury trial, the court did not consider the allegation of an uncharged crime.

In cases of domestic violence, such as Assault, or battey, filing the proper charge in court is not that simple. Procedures or rules are needed to be followed; otherwise, you may lose your rights to compensation. For this reason, it is important to rightfully choose your lawyer. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, we only have the best lawyers with exceptional skills in the field of Domestic Violence. You can talk to an NY Domestic Violence Lawyer or NY Criminal Lawyer at our firm for a free legal advice.

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