Policy considerations, however, may militate against entertaining an action for declaratory judgment that is instituted to challenge a criminal court’s ruling. On this basis, both declaratory relief and prohibition have been limited as a means for attacking penal statutes or court rulings. On reviewing the reasons underlying those decisions, it is concluded that the action here is proper. Declaratory relief, on the other hand, generally seeks a determination of rights before a “wrong” occurs, rather than collateral review of a court’s ruling. In that context, it has been used to test penal statutes. Two tacks have been taken in seeking declaratory relief with regard to criminal laws. First, some have sought a determination whether particular conduct violates some penal law. The other has been to test the constitutional validity of a statute. This court generally has held that the latter is proper; the former is more circumscribed.
With this in mind, it can be stated that a declaratory judgment attacking a criminal court’s interlocutory ruling may be granted when the controversy is over the validity of a statute, the determination of which does not require resolving any factual disputes, and there is no immediate attempt to prevent the criminal court from proceeding on the course which it has charted by its ruling. Furthermore, the criminal court’s ruling must have an obvious effect extending far beyond the matter pending before it so that it is likely that the issue will arise again with the same result in other cases. Put another way, the situation must be one where it can be assumed that the question will recur in other prosecutions and the criminal court will decide it in the same way. Inasmuch as a defendant always has available a right to appeal, only an application for declaratory relief by the People should be entertained. The recurring nature of the issue, therefore, should pose a risk of significantly obstructing the task of administering criminal justice by imposing an undue burden on prosecutors and the courts. Although this court declines today to expressly limit when such an action may be brought, it is noted that this concern over obstructing the speedy resolution of cases suggests that it is most appropriate when the challenge is to a ruling on how a trial is to be conducted. This “procedural” type of question is also the sort that is likely to recur and to be decided in the same manner regardless of the facts underlying the criminal charges. On the other hand, mere evidentiary rulings would not be proper subjects. Finally, the appropriate parties do not include the individual defendant in the case where the challenged ruling was made; as to him or her, there is another pending proceeding and the controversy has been decided. As a corollary, the action for declaratory judgment cannot seek any injunction against the individual defendant or the criminal court.
Applying these factors to the instant proceeding, it is apparent that declaratory relief is proper. Judge ruled that CPL 340.40 (subd. 2) was unconstitutional as applied to prostitution defendants in New York City. The nature of the ruling clearly makes it one that will be repeated unchanged in future prosecutions. Its potential impact on the criminal justice system is manifest from Judge Erlbaum’s own decision. In 1979, a total of only 15 out of 14,247 prostitution cases went to trial in the Manhattan Criminal Court. It can be expected that, if jury trials were available, far more prostitution defendants would demand trials, which would overwhelm the courts and prosecutors by consuming large amounts of time for selecting juries and would cause unmanageable delays.