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Court Discusses Integrated Domestic Violence Division

In January 2004, the Chief Judge of a State promulgated the establishment of Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) parts in Supreme Court. The rule directed that the specialized part be devoted to hearing and determination, in a single forum, of cases that are simultaneously pending in the courts if one of them is a domestic violence case in a criminal court and the other is a case in Supreme or Family Court that involves a party or witness in the domestic violence case; or if one is a case in criminal court, Family Court or Supreme Court and the other is a case in any other of these courts having a common party or in which a disposition may affect the interests of a party in the first case.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the intent of the IDV directive was to allow matters involving a single family to be resolved in one court by the same jurist, thereby eliminating fragmented judicial adjudication and relieving the parties of the burden and costs of having multiple actions pending in different courts. In addition to streamlining the litigation process for litigants and providing better access to community services for families, the new IDV parts also increased judicial efficiency by avoiding duplication of effort by multiple courts, reducing scheduling conflicts and avoiding inconsistent outcomes.

Soon after the Chief Judge issued part of the IDV, the Chief Administrative Judge implemented the new rule by adopting part of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, which defined those IDV-eligible cases subject to transfer to Supreme Court. A New York Criminal Lawyer said that under the rules, cases that meet the criteria are sent to an IDV part where, within five days, the cases are screened to determine whether transfer will promote the administration of justice. If so, a formal transfer order is issued and the case is retained by the IDV part for disposition. If not, the case is returned to the originating court.

In January 2007, a man was charged by misdemeanor information filed in the County Criminal Court with multiple counts of aggravated harassment after he contacted his former partner by telephone 62 times in one evening and repeatedly threatened her with physical harm. The man and his former partner had been involved in multiple prior family court cases regarding disputes about their two children. After his arraignment in the Criminal Court, the case was transferred to the IDV part of the County Supreme Court where a non-jury trial was conducted. The man was convicted of three counts of attempted aggravated harassment and sentenced to concurrent terms of one year probation. He was also directed to participate in a variety of domestic violence accountability and other programs.

Although the man raised no objection in the trial court to the transfer of his case, in his appeal to the Appellate Division, he argued that the IDV Part — an arm of Supreme Court — lacked the authority to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over his misdemeanor case because it was prosecuted by information rather than an indictment or superior court information issued after waiver of indictment. The man also contended that the Chief Judge and Chief Administrative Judge exceeded the scope of their authority when they issued the IDV directives. In addition, he sought reversal based on an asserted evidentiary error. The Appellate Division unanimously rejected the man’s arguments and affirmed his conviction. A Justice of that court granted the man leave to appeal.

About nine months after the IDV directives were issued, the Chief Judge promulgated the next part of the Rules of the Chief Judge establishing a criminal division in the County Supreme Court. The new part — denominated the County Criminal Division, was vested with the authority to adjudicate cases commenced in the County Criminal Court when at least one felony or misdemeanor offense was charged. The intent was to permit cases originating in the Criminal Court to be reassigned to the County Criminal Division for trial in order to alleviate a trial backlog that had developed in the Criminal Court. The Chief Administrative Judge adopted the rule directing, with specified limitations, that certain felony and misdemeanor cases pending in the County Criminal Court be transferred to the County Criminal Division Part in Supreme Court following arraignment, if the cases were not resolved at arraignment. By order of the County Administrative Judge, the County Criminal Division directives were implemented on November 5, 2004.

In October 2005, another man was charged in misdemeanor information with various classes A misdemeanors and harassment, a violation, resulting from an altercation with his wife. The charges were filed in the County Criminal Court. After arraignment, his case was transferred to the County Criminal Division and a non-jury trial was conducted. The man was acquitted of the misdemeanor offenses but convicted of the harassment charge and sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Another man was charged with the misdemeanor offenses of obstructing governmental administration and assault, as well as harassment, a violation resulting from disruptive behavior during a parole hearing. Following his arraignment in the County Criminal Court, the man’s case was transferred to the County Criminal Division for a non-jury trial. He was convicted of attempted assault and harassment for which he received 90-day and 15-day jail sentences, respectively.

Both men appealed and, in their initial briefs, neither of them protested that the trial had been conducted in the County Criminal Division part of the Supreme Court. However, the Appellate Division requested that the attorneys in each case brief the additional issues of whether the establishment of the County Criminal Division of the Supreme Court under a part of the Rules of the Chief Administrator is consistent with the Constitution and statutes of the State and whether the Supreme Court possessed jurisdiction over a criminal case absent the filing of an indictment or superior court information.

In response to the inquiry, the defense counsel filed supplemental briefs asserting that unified court system (UCS) administrators exceeded the authority granted them under the Constitution and relevant statutes when they issued the County Criminal Division directives and that the Supreme Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to try misdemeanor offenses prosecuted on an information. Relying on the Criminal Law Procedure, the accused men contended that the Supreme Court has the power to adjudicate misdemeanor offenses only when the Grand Jury has included them in an indictment or an accused has waived indictment and agreed to be prosecuted by Superior Court Information (SCI). The Court countered that various provisions of the Constitution and the Judiciary Law expressly allowed Unified Court System administrators to issue the rules relating to transfer of misdemeanor cases to the County Criminal Division Part and, as an arm of Supreme Court, the County Criminal Division possessed the requisite jurisdiction to try the accused parties’ unindicted misdemeanor cases.

In February 2009, in a divided opinion, the Appellate Division reversed a conviction and dismissed the accusatory instrument, crediting the accused man’s jurisdictional arguments. In his dissent, the Judge disagreed with the majority, finding ample constitutional and statutory basis for the issuance of the County Criminal Division directives and concluding that, as a court of general, concurrent jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is empowered to adjudicate misdemeanor cases, regardless of whether the charge is contained in information, an indictment or an SCI. In a separate decision, the four justices that comprised the action, majority reversed one related conviction and dismissed the misdemeanor information, citing the decision in the case. In each case, the Judge granted the Court leave to appeal.

The Justice System is continuously finding ways to protect women and children who become victims of home-related violence and crimes. Whether you have been accused of domestic violence, sex crimes, or other criminal offense, it is important that you seek legal guidance. Stephen Bilkis and Associates will see to it that any updates on the law would make women and children well-safeguarded.

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