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Lockwood v. Lockwood

New York Family Court, Otsego County

January 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brian D. Burns, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed Official Reports.

Petitioner filed a Petition for Violation of an Order of Protection (hereinafter referred to as the "Violation Petition") on July 17, 2008. On December 29, 2008, Respondent filed a Notice of Motion, which was made returnable on January 12, 2009. Respondent seeks dismissal of the Violation Petition on the ground that the action is barred by res judicata and double jeopardy. Petitioner filed her opposition to the Motion by and through her attorney on January 8, 2009. The Attorney for the Children also filed an Affirmation in Opposition to the Motion on January 6, 2009. The Court heard the Motion on January 12, 2009, and has considered all arguments made, as well as supporting papers submitted.


This Court issued a Final Order of Protection on September 25, 2007, which directed, among other things, Respondent to stay 500 feet away from Petitioner and their two children. In her Violation Petition, Petitioner alleges that, on June 25, 2008, Respondent pulled into a local convenience store where she was with the two children. She further alleges that Respondent spoke with the parties' daughter and engaged in a fight with Petitioner. Petitioner made a complaint to the police, and an arrest warrant was issued for Respondent.

According to Respondent's papers, he was arrested on a charge of criminal contempt in the 2nd degree and arraigned in the Town of Guilford Court on July 1, 2008. At the conclusion of the arraignment, Defendant requested an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, and the same was granted. It is not clear whether the adjournment in contemplation of dismissal was granted upon consent of the people as required by CPL § 170.55 or whether the alleged victim, the Petitioner in this matter, was present at the arraignment, but this Court is without authority to address that issue.

Petitioner's Violation Petition, filed July 17, 2008, is based upon the same incident which led to Respondent's arrest and resultant adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.


The Court will address, first, that aspect of the Motion requesting dismissal of the Violation Petition on the ground that it is barred by double jeopardy.

New York criminal courts have concurrent jurisdiction with family courts over all family offense proceedings. (See, Family Court Act §§ 115(e), 812(1); Criminal Procedure Law §§ 100.07, 530.11(1)). The scheme of concurrent jurisdiction was created by the Legislature in 1994 in recognition of the vital need to treat domestic violence as criminal behavior. (See, People v. Wood,95 NY2d 509,512, 719 NYS2d 639 [2000]). Notwithstanding the fact that this Family Court is a civil court, it nevertheless has authority to incarcerate a respondent for violation of a court order. (See, FCA §§ 812(2)(b),846-a). This potential for imposition of a punitive sanction upon a finding of contempt of court, undoubtedly raises the specter of double jeopardy protection. (See, Alfeo v. Alfeo, 306 AD2d 471,472, 761 NYS2d 505 [2nd Dept. 2003]).

New York's "double jeopardy" statute provides that a person may not be twice prosecuted for the same offense, unless the "offenses as defined have substantially different elements and the acts establishing one offense are in the main clearly distinguishable from those establishing the other." (See, CPL § 40.20(1),(2)(a)). With respect to the matter pending in this Court, Family Court Act § 846-a requires proof that respondent "willfully failed to obey" a "lawful order" or order of protection. Criminal contempt in the 2nd degree, with which Respondent was charged in criminal court, requires proof of "intentional disobedience or resistance to the lawful process or other mandate of a court." (See, Penal Law § 215.50). Minor semantic differences aside, the elements of each offense are not distinguishable. Accordingly, if Respondent was prosecuted in criminal court on the criminal contempt charge, he could not be then subject to a punitive sanction before this Court, and vice versa. (See, People v. Wood, supra ).

The essential question, then, as to whether an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in criminal court constitutes a previous prosecution for double jeopardy purposes, thereby barring the action in Family Court for contempt, appears to be one of first impression.*fn1 This Court concludes that an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal does not constitute a previous prosecution. CPL § 40.30(1) states that a person is prosecuted when the action either: "(a)[t]erminates in a conviction upon a plea of guilty; or (b)[p]roceeds to the trial stage and a jury has been impaneled and sworn or, in the case of a trial by the court without a jury, a witness is sworn." The criminal matter, having concluded at arraignment, does not fall into either of these categories.

Accordingly, that aspect of the Motion requesting the Violation Petition be dismissed on double jeopardy grounds is denied.

The Court will address, next, that aspect of the Motion seeking dismissal of the Violation Petition on the ground of res judicata.

"Under res judicata, or claim preclusion, a valid final judgment bars future actions between the same parties on the same cause of action. As a general rule, 'once a claim is brought to a final conclusion, all other claims arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions are barred, even if based upon different theories or if seeking a different remedy.'" (See, Parker v. Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Co.,93 NY2d 343,347, 690 NYS2d 478 [1999]). The principal of res judicata is applicable in criminal, as well as civil, matters. (See, United States v. Oppenheimer, et al., 242 U.S. 85, 37 S.Ct. 68 [1916]).

This Court must assess, then, whether the adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in a criminal matter constitutes a "final conclusion" barring subsequent litigation. This Court concludes that it does not constitute a final conclusion. Certainly, the use of the word "adjournment" connotes anything but finality. More importantly, "[w]here a criminal charge has been adjudicated upon by a court having jurisdiction to hear and determine it, that adjudication, whether it takes the form of an acquittal or conviction, is final as to the matter so adjudicated upon." (See, Oppenheimer, supra , at 88). Final conclusion, in the context of criminal matters, means acquittal or conviction.

Accordingly, that aspect of the Motion requesting the Violation Petition be dismissed on res judicata grounds is denied.

Based upon the foregoing, it is hereby

ORDERED that the Motion for dismissal of the Violation Petition filed by Respondent on December 29, 2008 is dismissed; and it is further

ORDERED that Violation Petition, filed on July 17, 2008, is scheduled for a fact-finding hearing on Wednesday, February 4, 2009, at 10:00 AM.

TAKE NOTICE of an order granted herein of which the within is a copy, duly entered in my office on January, 2009.

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