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People v. Harnett

February 25, 2010


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


Calendar Date: November 23, 2009

Before: Cardona, P.J., Rose, Malone Jr., Stein and Garry, JJ.

Appeal from a judgment of the County Court of Schenectady County (Hoye, J.), rendered March 13, 2008, convicting defendant upon his plea of guilty of the crime of sexual abuse in the first degree.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in the first degree, waived his right to appeal and was thereafter sentenced to an agreed-upon prison term of seven years, with 10 years of postrelease supervision. In addition, County Court entered an order of protection in the victim's favor for a period of 15 years. Defendant appeals.

Defendant contends that his guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently or voluntarily entered because County Court did not advise him prior to the entry of that plea that a sex offense conviction subjects him to the provisions of the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (see Mental Hygiene Law art 10 [hereinafter SOMTA]), which could result in confinement or intensive supervision beyond the expiration of his prison sentence. It is well settled that trial courts are required to advise defendants who plead guilty regarding the direct consequences of such plea, but they have no obligation to iterate every collateral consequence of the conviction (see People v Catu, 4 NY3d 242, 244 [2005]; People v Ford, 86 NY2d 397, 405 [1995]). "Collateral consequences are peculiar to the individual and generally result from the actions taken by agencies the court does not control[, whereas a] direct consequence is one which has a definite, immediate and largely automatic effect on [a] defendant's punishment" (People v Catu, 4 NY3d at 244 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]).

It is important to initially note that SOMTA proceedings are expansive civil proceedings, which are entirely separate from and independent of the original criminal action.*fn1 Although any person qualifying as a "[d]etained sex offender" (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.03 [g]), such as defendant, is necessarily subjected to the initial notice provision of SOMTA (see Mental Hygiene Law § 10.05), such notice does not automatically result in an ultimate finding that the person is a "[d]angerous sex offender requiring confinement" (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.03 [e]). Specifically, SOMTA provides that, upon notice by an authorized agency that a person who may be a detained sex offender is about to be released from incarceration, a multidisciplinary staff at the Office of Mental Health will conduct a preliminarily review to determine whether that person should be further evaluated by a case review team (see Mental Hygiene Law § 10.05 [d]). If the person is referred to a case review team, and if that team finds, in its opinion, that the person requires civil management, the Attorney General is notified and provided with a report of a psychiatrist opining whether that person has a "mental abnormality" (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.05 [e]; see Mental Hygiene Law § 10.03 [i]). The Attorney General may then elect to file a sex offender civil management petition (see Mental Hygiene Law § 10.06 [a]), and the court before which that petition is pending must then conduct a hearing "to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the respondent is a sex offender requiring civil management" (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.06 [g]). If the court finds that such probable cause exists, "the court shall conduct a jury trial to determine whether the respondent is a detained sex offender who suffers from a mental abnormality," which finding must be established by clear and convincing evidence (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.07 [a]; see Mental Hygiene Law § 10.07 [d]). If such finding is made after the trial, the parties are afforded the opportunity to present additional evidence and the court must determine, again by clear and convincing evidence, "whether the respondent is a dangerous sex offender requiring confinement or a sex offender requiring strict and intensive supervision" (Mental Hygiene Law § 10.07 [f]).

Considering the foregoing lengthy SOMTA process -- with its numerous civil procedural steps that must be followed before a final determination is made -- this Court finds that it cannot be reasonably said that the potential for the future civil confinement or intensive supervision of defendant is an immediate, definite or automatic result of his guilty plea (see People v Catu, 4 NY3d at 244). Notably, the relevant determinations will not be based solely on the admissions that defendant made at the time of his guilty plea but, rather, will be based upon the particular circumstances of defendant's criminal history, his mental health at the time of his anticipated release and other factors to be ascertained during the SOMTA proceedings. We therefore find that the potential for either civil confinement or supervision pursuant to SOMTA is a collateral consequence of a guilty plea and, therefore, the current state of the law does not require that defendants be informed of it prior to entering a plea of guilty.*fn2

Finally, we are not convinced that County Court's entry of a more restrictive order of protection than was contemplated during plea negotiations renders defendant's guilty plea invalid. Orders of protection are not punitive in nature and are not necessarily dependent on, or the result of, a plea agreement (see People v Nieves, 2 NY3d 310, 316 [2004]; see also People v Hull, 52 AD3d 962, 963 [2008]).

Cardona, P.J. and Rose, J., concur.

Stein, J. (dissenting).

While we agree with the majority's determination that the terms of the order of protection entered against defendant does not render his guilty plea invalid, we respectfully dissent from so much of the majority decision as concluded that it was not necessary to inform defendant of the potential for civil confinement pursuant to the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (see Mental Hygiene Law art 10 [hereinafter SOMTA]) prior to entering a plea of guilty.

Under firmly established principles, "'[a] trial court has the constitutional duty to ensure that a defendant, before pleading guilty, has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and its consequences'" (People v Catu, 4 NY3d 242, 244-245 [2005], quoting People v Ford, 86 NY2d 397, 402-403 [1995]). Thus, due process requires that the plea and the waiver of rights it necessarily encompasses represent a knowing, voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action available to the defendant (see NY Const, art I; People v Hill, 9 NY3d 189, 191 [2007], cert denied ___ US ___, 128 S Ct 2430 [2008]; People v Catu, 4 NY3d at 245; People v Ford, 86 NY2d at 403). The majority correctly notes that a distinction has been drawn between "direct" and "collateral" consequences of a plea -- requiring that a defendant be advised of the former, but not of the latter (see People v Catu, 4 NY3d at 244; People v Ford, 86 NY2d at 403) -- and it has been universally held that civil confinement laws comparable to SOMTA are civil proceedings that are considered "collateral" to the criminal action in which a plea is taken.*fn3 Nevertheless, we would find, as a matter of fundamental fairness, that the possibility of civil commitment under SOMTA must be disclosed to a defendant prior to his or her plea of guilty, regardless of whether such commitment is considered to be a direct or penal consequence of the plea (see State of New Jersey v Bellamy, 178 NJ 127, 138-139, 835 A2d 1231, 1237-1238 [NJ Sup Ct 2003]).

Under SOMTA, a defendant who has committed a predicate offense may be faced with confinement for life (see Mental Hygiene Law ยงยง 10.07, 10.09, 10.10). In that sense, it constitutes a potentially greater deprivation of liberty than the criminal sentence imposed upon most defendants and is far more akin to postrelease supervision -- a direct consequence of a plea -- where a person is not at liberty to move about in society (see People v Catu, 4 NY3d at 242), than to a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces or the loss of voting rights, the right to travel abroad, civil service employment, a driver's license, or the right to possess firearms -- all of which have been deemed to be collateral consequences to a plea of guilty (see People v Ford, 86 NY2d at 402-403). Furthermore, unlike many of the other consequences deemed to be collateral, the courts play a substantial role in presiding ...

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