People v. Davis, No. 86

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtCiparick
Citation912 N.E.2d 1044,13 N.Y.3d 17
Decision Date11 June 2009
Docket NumberNo. 86
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Wayne DAVIS, Appellant.
912 N.E.2d 1044
13 N.Y.3d 17
The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
Wayne DAVIS, Appellant.
No. 86
Court of Appeals of New York.
June 11, 2009.

[912 N.E.2d 1045]

Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Bureau, New York City (Amy Donner and Steven Banks of counsel), for appellant.

Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney, Brooklyn (Lori Glachman and Leonard Joblove of counsel), for respondent.

[13 N.Y.3d 20]



In this appeal arising out of defendant's conviction for failure to comply with a posted sign indicating a New York City park's closing time, we conclude that Criminal Procedure Law § 350.20, which permits class B misdemeanors to be tried and determined by judicial hearing officers (JHOs) "upon agreement of the parties," is constitutional and that the parties' agreement to engage in JHO adjudication here — as evidenced by a signed consent form and defense counsel's participation in the JHO proceeding — was valid. In addition, we apply the standard of common sense and reasonable pleading and hold that the People's information was sufficient.


An information charged defendant with violating New York City Parks and Recreation Department Rules (56 RCNY) § 1-03(c)(2),

13 N.Y.3d 21

which prohibits persons from being in city parks after their posted closing times (see 56 RCNY 1-03[c][2]). Although the rule contains qualifying language stating that a person may disregard a park sign "upon order by a Police Officer or designated Department employee" (id.), the information-which was prepared by a police officer-did not state whether that portion of the rule applied to defendant. Rather, it indicated that the officer had observed defendant in Brooklyn's Betsy Head Park at 2:06 A.M. on December 15, 2005, despite the fact that a park sign stated a closing time of 9:00 P.M. Violation of rule 1-03(c)(2) is punishable as a class B misdemeanor (see 56 RCNY 1-07[a]; Penal Law § 70.15[2]), the maximum penalty for which is 90 days' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine (see 56 RCNY 1-07[a]).

912 N.E.2d 1046

On February 16, 2006, defendant — represented by counsel — was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. The court informed defendant that he would need to return for trial and that he would receive certain "paper work." Contained in defendant's Criminal Court file is a form entitled "CONSENT TO ADJUDICATION BEFORE A JUDICIAL HEARING OFFICER (JHO)." Although the form explained that defendant's case was being referred to a JHO for "trial and/or final disposition and sentence," it explicitly stated that defendant had "the right to adjudicate this case before a Criminal Court judge." Further, the form listed the scope of the JHO's authority as derived from CPL 350.20. Thus, it stated that

"[t]he Judicial Hearing Officer who adjudicates this case will:

"a) determine all questions of law; and

"b) act as the exclusive trier of all issues of fact; and

"c) render a verdict; and

"d) impose a sentence if required."

Accordingly, the form indicated that the JHO presiding over defendant's class B misdemeanor trial "shall have the same powers as a Criminal Court judge and any action taken by the Judicial Hearing Officer shall be deemed the action of the Criminal Court." The form also stated that defendant would have the right to seek an appeal from the JHO's decision in his case in the same manner as he would had it been tried by a Criminal

13 N.Y.3d 22

Court judge. Finally, immediately above its signature line, the form clarified that "[b]y signing this form[,] you hereby consent to having your case adjudicated before a Judicial Hearing Officer."

Defendant apparently signed the JHO consent form.1 With the assistance of counsel, he proceeded to trial before a JHO and was convicted of violating the relevant Parks Department rule based on the testimony of the observing officer. During trial, defendant did not attempt to prove that he had been granted permission by a police officer or Parks Department employee to remain in Betsy Head Park past its posted closing time. On April 17, 2006, he was sentenced to a $75 fine or 10 days in jail. Approximately nine months later, he was resentenced to time served.

The Appellate Term affirmed (19 Misc.3d 145[A], 867 N.Y.S.2d 19). The court held that the People were not required to plead that the qualifying language in 56 RCNY 1-03(c) did not apply to defendant. Further, the court concluded that defendant had given a valid consent to JHO adjudication that was supported by his counsel's participation — without objection — in defendant's trial before a JHO. A Judge of this Court granted defendant leave to appeal (11 N.Y.3d 787, 866 N.Y.S.2d 613, 896 N.E.2d 99 [2008]) and we now affirm.


We have previously examined the legislative history of the 1983 enactment (see L. 1983, ch. 840, § 11) codifying CPL 350.20

912 N.E.2d 1047

(see People v. Scalza, 76 N.Y.2d 604, 608, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705 [1990]). The goal of this legislation was to utilize the services of highly-qualified retired judges, or JHOs, to alleviate the backlog and delay that had begun to "seriously cripple[]" our State's court system and had "undermine[d] public confidence in the fairness of justice in our

13 N.Y.3d 23

state" (see Report of Committee to Utilize the Services of Retired Judges, Bill Jacket, L. 1983, ch. 840, at 60 [hereinafter Retired Judges Report]). One of the ways in which the Legislature sought to alleviate these problems was by granting judges the discretionary authority to assign class B and unclassified misdemeanors to JHOs for adjudication "upon agreement of the parties" (see CPL 350.20[1]). In such capacity, JHOs would act as a court (see CPL 350.20[1]-[3]). Thus, with consent of the litigants, JHOs would be empowered to "(a) determine all questions of law; (b) act as the exclusive trier of all issues of fact; and (c) render a verdict" (see CPL 350.20[1][a]-[c]). Consensual JHO adjudication was intended to contribute to the goal of reducing pernicious calendar congestion, thereby fostering the more efficient administration of criminal justice (see Retired Judges Report, Bill Jacket, L. 1983, ch. 840, at 74). The question we must now decide is whether CPL 350.20's pursuit of this worthy goal comports with the State and Federal Constitutions. For the reasons set forth below, we hold that it does.


Defendant mounts two facial attacks against the constitutionality of CPL 350.20. He contends that it violates New York Constitution, article VI, § 15(a) which provides for the establishment of the New York City Criminal Court and sets certain qualifications for that court's judges.2 Defendant also argues that he has both a federal and state due process right to adjudicate his class B misdemeanor case before a Criminal Court judge and that CPL 350.20 improperly abridges that right.

To succeed in these arguments, defendant must shoulder a "substantial burden" (see People v. Scalza, 76 N.Y.2d 604, 607, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705 [1990]). Duly enacted statutes enjoy a "presumption of constitutionality" (see id.; Dalton v. Pataki, 5 N.Y.3d 243, 255, 802 N.Y.S.2d 72, 835 N.E.2d 1180 [2005]). Thus, a party who asserts that a statute is facially unconstitutional must demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the statute suffers from "wholesale constitutional impairment" (see Matter of E.S. v. P.D., 8 N.Y.3d 150, 158, 831 N.Y.S.2d 96, 863 N.E.2d 100 [2007], quoting Matter of Moran Towing Corp. v. Urbach, 99 N.Y.2d 443, 448, 757 N.Y.S.2d 513, 787 N.E.2d 624 [2003] [internal quotation marks omitted]; accord Scalza, 76 N.Y.2d at 607, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705["The substantial burden of proving unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt rests with a statute's

13 N.Y.3d 24

antagonist"]). Each prong of defendant's dual facial challenge fails to meet this exacting standard.

Defendant's article VI, § 15(a) argument is premised almost entirely on our decision in Scalza. In that case, we dealt with CPL 255.20(4), which permits a court to refer any pretrial motion in a criminal case to a JHO for the preparation of a report setting forth the JHO's proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law (see Scalza, 76 N.Y.2d at 606, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705). Such referral may be made without consent of the parties and the court retains power to accept, reject, or modify the JHO's findings or even to review

912 N.E.2d 1048

the motion de novo (see id. at 609, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705). The defendant in Scalza argued that the nonbinding referrals authorized by CPL 255.20(4) were unconstitutional under article VI, §§ 10 and 11 of the New York Constitution (see id.). We rejected that argument based on the lack of any "express or implied prohibitory language" in those constitutional provisions that would prevent the Legislature from authorizing nonconsensual JHO referrals to report (see id.). As we explained, sections 10 and 11 "provide essentially for the organization and jurisdiction of County Courts" (id.).

The same is true of article VI, § 15(a). It requires the Legislature to establish "a single court of city-wide criminal jurisdiction in and for the city of New York" and mandates that the judges comprising that court be New York City residents, who are appointed by the City's mayor to serve 10-year terms (N.Y. Const, art. VI, § 15[a]).3 It does not speak to whether the Legislature may establish different tribunals with concurrent jurisdiction or whether it may authorize litigants to resort to those tribunals upon their agreement. Nonetheless, defendant maintains that article VI, § 15(a) somehow precludes the Legislature from authorizing a JHO to determine a class B misdemeanor case when all parties consent to such adjudication. Defendant points to nothing in the express text of section 15(a) to support this argument. Nor have we been able to locate any additional interpretative support for it (see 4th Ann Rep. of N.Y. Jud. Conf., Comment, at 92-93...

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