Vega v. Bell

Decision Date09 July 1979
Citation393 N.E.2d 450,47 N.Y.2d 543,419 N.Y.S.2d 454
Parties, 393 N.E.2d 450 In the Matter of Daniel VEGA, Respondent, v. Howard E. BELL, as Justice of the Supreme Court, Bronx County, et al., Appellants.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Mario Merola, Dist. Atty. (Alan D. Marrus, New York City, of counsel), for appellants
OPINION OF THE COURT

GABRIELLI, Judge.

We are called upon in this article 78 proceeding to determine whether a juvenile offender may be indicted by a Grand Jury and be brought to trial without first being afforded a hearing in a local criminal court on the issue whether the interests of justice require removal of the action to Family Court for treatment as a juvenile delinquency proceeding. We conclude that a local criminal court hearing is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to indictment by a Grand Jury, and thus there exists no bar to continuation of criminal proceedings commenced by Grand Jury indictment despite the failure to hold a removal hearing in a local criminal court.

Petitioner, then 15 years of age, was arrested on October 4, 1978 and arraigned the following day in the Criminal Court of the City of New York, Bronx County, upon a felony complaint charging him with one count of sodomy in the first degree. The complaint alleged that petitioner had engaged in deviate sexual intercourse with a minor by forcible compulsion. On October 11, petitioner requested both a felony hearing and removal of the case to the Family Court. The prosecutor informed the court that on the previous day a Grand Jury had voted to indict petitioner on four counts of sodomy in the first degree based on four incidents, one of which formed the basis for the felony complaint. Reasoning that it lacked the power to continue the proceeding before it after the Grand Jury had acted, the court denied petitioner's applications for a felony hearing and for removal to Family Court, and instead transferred the action to the appropriate superior criminal court, Supreme Court, Bronx County.

Petitioner subsequently moved in Supreme Court, Bronx County, to transfer the action back to Criminal Court for resolution of his removal motion on the merits. Following the denial of the transfer motion, petitioner commenced the instant article 78 proceeding seeking to prohibit his prosecution on the ground that the Grand Jury lacked the power to indict him unless the local criminal court first provided him a hearing on his removal motion. The Appellate Division granted the petition, over a dissent by two Justices, and respondents now appeal to this court as of right pursuant to CPLR 5601 (subd. (a), par. (i)).

As petitioner has chosen to raise his claim in the context of an article 78 proceeding seeking the extraordinary remedy of a writ of prohibition, he is subject to the limitations controlling the issuance of such a writ. As we stated in Matter of Dondi v. Jones, 40 N.Y.2d 8, 13, 386 N.Y.S.2d 4, 8, 351 N.E.2d 650, 654: "(T)he extraordinary remedy of prohibition lies only where there is a clear legal right and only when the body or officer 'acts or threatens to act without jurisdiction in a matter over which it has no power over the subject matter or where it exceeds its authorized powers in a proceeding over which it has jurisdiction' (Matter of State of New York v. King, 36 N.Y.2d 59, 62, 364 N.Y.S.2d 879, 881, 882, 324 N.E.2d 351, 352; Matter of Nigrone v. Murtagh, 36 N.Y.2d 421, 423-424, 369 N.Y.S.2d 75, 77, 330 N.E.2d 45, 46). It must be directed to some inferior judicial tribunal or officer and lies to prevent or control judicial or quasi-judicial action only, as distinguished from legislative, executive or ministerial action (Matter of Kaney v. New York State Civ. Serv. Comm., 190 Misc. 944, 951, 77 N.Y.S.2d 8, 16, affd. 273 App.Div. 1054, 81 N.Y.S.2d 168, affd. 298 N.Y. 707, 83 N.E.2d 11; 23 Carmody-Wait 2d, N.Y.Prac., § 145:215, p. 788; see Comment: The Writ of Prohibition in New York Attempt to Circumscribe an Elusive Concept, 50 St John's L.Rev. 76, 84)" (accord Matter of Jaffe v. Scheinman, 47 N.Y.2d 188, 192-193, 417 N.Y.S.2d 241, 242-243, 390 N.E.2d 1165, 1166-1167; Matter of B. T. Prods. v. Barr, 44 N.Y.2d 226, 231-232, 405 N.Y.S.2d 9, 11-12, 376 N.E.2d 171, 173-174; Matter of Steingut v. Gold, 42 N.Y.2d 311, 315-316, 397 N.Y.S.2d 765, 768-769, 366 N.E.2d 854, 856-857). As it is petitioner's claim that he may not be brought to trial upon the pending indictment because the Grand Jury lacked the power to indict him, this is clearly a proper case for issuance of the writ of prohibition should petitioner's substantive arguments prove sound. Accordingly, we now turn our attention to the validity of those contentions.

Prior to September 1, 1978, children under the age of 16 were not subject to criminal sanctions in New York State in any circumstances. Instead, juveniles who performed acts which would have been crimes had they been committed by adults, were all dealt with through a separate juvenile delinquency system (see Family Ct. Act, art. 7). This method of attempting to deal with the problem of criminal actions performed by juveniles was deemed somewhat less than completely successful by many, especially as public attention in recent years focused on what has been perceived to be an increase in the rate of acts of violence by minors. Responding to this troublesome state of affairs, the Legislature last year made certain substantial modifications in the traditional mechanisms for resolving the problem of juvenile crime (see L.1978, chs. 478, 481). Among other drastic changes in the law, juveniles between the ages of 13 and 15 who are charged with certain enumerated, serious crimes of violence are now classified as "juvenile offenders" and are prosecuted within the adult criminal justice system (CPL 1.20, subd. 42; Penal Law, § 10.00, subd. 18; § 30.00, subd. 2).

While deciding that such harsh measures were necessary to control violent juvenile crime in the face of what was considered to be the failure of the traditional means of treating that problem, the Legislature nonetheless remained sensitive to the fact that special considerations are sometimes appropriate when dealing with juveniles, who are more easily influenced by their companions and their environment than are adults. Hence, rather than simply applying every feature of the adult criminal justice system to juvenile offenders, the Legislature carefully created several modifications in normal procedure so as to displace "the ones applicable to adults insofar as they would be inappropriate or incongruous to the handling of such 'juveniles' charged with very serious crimes" (Bellacosa, Practice Commentary, McKinney's Cons.Laws of N.Y., Book 11A, CPL 180.75). Of special significance in the instant case are several provisions whereby, at various stages in a criminal proceeding, a juvenile offender may be removed to Family Court if it becomes apparent in a particular case that such treatment would be more appropriate than continuation of criminal prosecution (see CPL 180.75, 220.10, subd. 5, par. (h); 330.25).

Most of these provisions provide for removal to Family Court only with the approval of the District Attorney. CPL 180.75 (subd. 4), however, provides that where a juvenile offender is arraigned before a local criminal court upon a felony complaint, that court may order, even over the objection of the District Attorney, that the defendant be removed to Family Court in the interests of justice unless the defendant is accused of either murder in the second degree or an armed felony (CPL 1.20, subd. 41). Petitioner contends that this is the only stage in a criminal proceeding against a juvenile offender at which a court may order removal of the accused to Family Court despite the objections of the District Attorney. Petitioner suggests that since the Legislature deemed it necessary to provide such a safety valve, it must have intended that mechanism to be applicable to every alleged juvenile offender. Hence, petitioner would have us interpret the statutory scheme governing the prosecution of juvenile offenders as requiring that each juvenile defendant must be granted a hearing before a local criminal court to decide whether the interests of justice mandate removal to Family Court, before he or she may be indicted by a Grand Jury. In addition to his statutory arguments, petitioner contends that due process mandates a full hearing to determine whether a juvenile may be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system or whether he or she should be removed to Family Court. Finally, it is also suggested that a scheme whereby only those juvenile offenders who are arraigned before a local criminal court are afforded an opportunity for removal without the consent of the District Attorney would itself be so inherently arbitrary as to violate due process.

Our examination of the statutes, however, persuades us that a juvenile offender may indeed be indicted by a Grand Jury without first being afforded a removal hearing before a local criminal court. Petitioner's arguments are based on a misunderstanding of the nature and function of CPL 180.75. That section deals only with those accused juvenile offenders who have been arrested and are arraigned on a felony complaint prior to Grand Jury action. The primary function of the section is to provide a prompt felony hearing, similar to that granted to an accused adult defendant (see CPL 180.10, subd. 2). In both situations, the primary purpose of such a hearing and such a procedure is to determine whether there exists reasonable cause to hold a defendant in custody pending action by a Grand Jury (see CPL 180.10, subd. 1; Staff Comments to Proposed CPL 90.60; People v. Jackson, 48 Misc.2d 1026, 1027-1028, 266 N.Y.S.2d 481, 483-484; Pitler, New York Criminal Practice Under the CPL, § 4.30). It is a preliminary proceeding at which a...

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