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People v. Davis

June 11, 2009

THE PEOPLE &C., RESPONDENT,
v.
WAYNE DAVIS, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ciparick, J.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports.

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.

I.

An information charged defendant with violating New York City Parks Department Rule 1-03 (c) (2), 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 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 ninety days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine (see [56 RCNY] § 1-07 [a]).

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 "paperwork." Contained in defendant's Criminal Court file is a form entitled "CONSENT TO ADJUDICATION BEFORE A JUDICIAL HEARING OFFICER (JHO)." Although the form explains 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:

"The 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 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.*fn1

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 ten days in jail. Approximately nine months later, he was resentenced to time served.

The Appellate Term affirmed. 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 and we now affirm.

II.

We have previously examined the legislative history of the 1983 enactment (see L 1983, ch 840) codifying CPL 350.20 (see People v Scalza, 76 NY2d 604, 608 [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 state" (see Report of the 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 ...


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