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PEOPLE STATE NEW YORK v. OSBORNE FULLER (04/10/69)

COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK 1969.NY.41098 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 248 N.E.2d 17; 24 N.Y.2d 292 decided: April 10, 1969. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT,v.OSBORNE FULLER, APPELLANT; THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT, V. MINNIE BROWN, APPELLANT; THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT, V. FLORENCE WATSON, APPELLANT; THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT. V. RAYMOND CHEESE, APPELLANT; THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT, V. RAYMOND SINGLETON, APPELLANT People v. Fuller, 57 Misc. 2d 350, reversed. Counsel William E. Hellerstein and Anthony F. Marra for appellants in the first, second, third and fourth above-entitled actions. Robert L. Walker and Anthony F. Marra for appellant in the fifth above-entitled action. Counsel Elliott Golden, Acting District Attorney of Kings County (Raymond J. Scanlon and Harry Brodbar of counsel), for respondent in the first and fifth above-entitled actions. Counsel Frank S. Hogan, District Attorney of New York County (Alan F. Scribner, Michael R. Juviler, Michael R. Stack and William C. Donnino of counsel), for respondent in the second and third above-entitled actions. Counsel Thomas J. Mackell, District Attorney of Queens County (George D. Marlow of counsel), for respondent in the fourth above-entitled action. Counsel Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney-General (Maria L. Marcus and Samuel A. Hirshowitz of counsel), in his statutory capacity under section 71 of the Executive Law. Keating, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Bergan, Breitel and Jasen concur, Judge Scileppi solely upon the ground that defendant is entitled to a jury trial. Author: Keating


People v. Fuller, 57 Misc. 2d 350, reversed.

Keating, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Bergan, Breitel and Jasen concur, Judge Scileppi solely upon the ground that defendant is entitled to a jury trial.

Author: Keating

 Recently in Matter of James (22 N.Y.2d 545) we had occasion to consider the constitutionality of the provisions of the Narcotics Control Act of 1966 as they relate to the compulsory treatment of narcotics addicts who have neither been charged with nor convicted of any criminal activity. We upheld the substantive provisions of the law, but certain constitutional deficiencies were found in its procedural provisions. In these five cases, the constitutionality of the provisions of the act as they apply to the commitment of the addict convicted of a crime is attacked.

The statutory framework for the convicted addict program is to be found in sections 207 and 208 of the Mental Hygiene Law (see, also, Mental Hygiene Law, § 210). Under the law, certification to the custody of the commission may occur in one of two ways. If the defendant petitions the court that he is an addict and requests civil commitment, the court may in its discretion grant the application provided the defendant meets certain stringent requirements. He must have had no prior felony conviction, no previous certification, and the present charge against him must be one not punishable by death or life imprisonment. In addition, if he faces a felony charge, the District Attorney must also consent. The effect of the granting of a request for civil certification is to bring about an automatic dismissal of the criminal charges with no loss of civil rights as a citizen (Mental Hygiene Law, § 210, subd. 3).

Where, however, for various reasons, other than nonaddiction, civil commitment is ruled out, the trial of the criminal charges will then proceed. If the trial terminates in a conviction, be it by plea or after trial, the trial court will review the report of the medical examination and, if the court is satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant is a narcotics addict, it must, in all cases where the defendant stands convicted of a crime punishable other than by death or life imprisonment, notify the defendant of its opinion and ask the defendant whether he wishes to admit to the addiction (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 1). Before making the inquiry, however, the court must also inform the defendant of his right to deny or stand mute on the issue and his right to a hearing with respect to the issue of his addiction.

If, either by admission or after a hearing, it is found that the defendant is an addict, and the crime involved is a misdemeanor or the offense of prostitution, the court must certify the defendant to the commission's custody for a period of three years (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 4, par. a). In the case of a felony conviction, however, the court has discretion to certify a defendant to the commission's custody for a period of up to five years. In both situations the addict may be discharged earlier as rehabilitated (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 4, par. b). If the court does not follow this course, the defendant is sentenced in accordance with the provisions of the Penal Law. Defendants convicted of a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment are ineligible for certification even if they are addicts (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 1).

Finally, the statute specifies that certification to the custody of the commission after conviction shall be deemed a judgment of conviction (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 5).

The constitutional objections raised are these. It is claimed that the constitutional rights of appellants were violated when statements obtained from them in the absence of counsel by the arresting police officer or during the course of the medical examination conducted to determine addiction were admitted in evidence at their addiction hearings. Also, it is contended that the statute is unconstitutional both in providing for a trial without a jury on the issue of addiction and in requiring proof of addiction by only a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt (Mental Hygiene Law, § 208, subd. 2).

We hold that in failing to accord a convicted addict a jury trial on the issue of his addiction, section 208 (subd. 2) of the Mental Hygiene Law violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Save in that respect the statute contains no constitutional defect, and no constitutional rights of appellants were violated at their hearings.*fn1

By its terms New York's Narcotic Control Act of 1966 recognizes that drug addiction is a "disease" and that an addict is a sick person in need of treatment (Mental Hygiene Law, § 200). The basic premise of the narcotic control program is and constitutionally must be a rehabilitative one. The extended period of deprivation of liberty which the statute mandates can only be justified as necessary to fulfill the purposes of the program. If not, the program constitutes an unconstitutional punishment for addiction since the maximum jail sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, not three years, and in the case of certain felonies the maximum sentence is less than five years.

Bearing in mind the basic purpose of the statute, we turn to the specific constitutional objections. It is argued that the statements obtained from an alleged addict by the commission's examining physician and which are then received in evidence to support the finding of addiction are inadmissible by reason of the fact that they were obtained in the absence of counsel. In other words, Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436); Massiah v. United States (377 U.S. 201); People v. Rodriguez (11 N.Y.2d 279) and People v. Meyer (11 N.Y.2d 162) are applicable.

These medical examinations, however, are used solely for diagnostic purposes. Any admission made to the doctor may not be received in evidence at the trial on the criminal charges (Mental Hygiene Law, § 207, subd. 5).*fn2 As the program is intended solely for the addict's benefit, self incrimination becomes irrelevant. The addiction hearing is not designed as a means of giving an added sentence, but is intended to serve the function of assuring that the physician's conclusion that the defendant is an addict is soundly based. It is the nonincriminating purpose of the examination that makes the privilege against self incrimination and the right to counsel inoperative at the physicial examination.

Appellants rely upon Matter of Gault (387 U.S. 1) where the Supreme Court rejected any notion that because a State has labeled a proceeding as civil in nature will control the court's determination of what constitutional protections are required (387 U. S., pp. 22-26, 49-52). In Gault, after a thorough review of the history of juvenile courts and the literature in the area, the Supreme Court concluded that the only difference between juvenile proceedings and adult criminal proceedings is that a juvenile has none of the safeguards he would have, had he been an adult (387 U. S., p. 29). It was this consideration that was decisive, not the tag "civil" or "criminal" and not whether there was or was not any finding of guilt.

All jails in some measure seek to have a program of rehabilitation, but in upholding, by way of dictum, a compulsory civil commitment program for narcotics rehabilitation, in Robinson v. California (370 U.S. 660, 669) the Supreme Court was referring to a full and complete program of treatment. Compulsory commitment must indeed be something "beyond the hanging of a new sign ...


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