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People v. Herne

New York County Court, Franklin

October 15, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Plaintiff,
v.
Amanda HERNE, Defendant.

Derek P. Champagne, Esq., Franklin County District Attorney, Malone.

Vaughn N. Aldrich, Esq., Attorney at Law, Hogansburg.

ROBERT G. MAIN JR., J.

The Mohawk Nation, in general, and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, in particular, have a long and storied history. Among many other things, this has resulted in the enactment of an express state legislative provision creating the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation at Akwasasne, New York. The provision is codified at Indian Law § 114. An interpretation of the statute's jurisdictional provisions, as they relate to the facts and circumstances of the instant criminal prosecution, is the sole issue before this Court.

[973 N.Y.S.2d 547] Defendant stands indicted in this matter for aggravated driving while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated, and speed not reasonable and prudent. The first two counts are felonies, and the third is a traffic offense. By a stipulation in lieu of motions, the parties agreed that the threshold issue of the jurisdictional provisions of Indian Law § 114 would be considered by this Court prior to any other judicial determination respecting this matter. The Court approved the stipulation, directed the submission of memoranda of law by the parties, and heard oral argument on this singular issue.

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the memoranda of law, considered the oral arguments of the parties, and conducted its own research. Curiously, this is an issue of first impression.

The Facts

The parties agree upon certain fundamental facts. As far as pertinent to this determination, the parties agree that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police were dispatched to a motor vehicle accident on St. Regis Road in the Town of Bombay in Franklin County. In local parlance, the traffic accident occurred in what is locally called the " Hogansburg Triangle", a geographic area that is subject to certain Native American land claims. The parties do not controvert that the accident scene to which the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police responded was outside the boundaries of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. Neither party contended that the accident scene, and subsequent arrest at the scene, was within one hundred (100) yards of the boundary of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation ( see Criminal Procedure Law § 140.10[2][a] ). Personal injury was apparent; an ambulance was called to the scene. Based upon the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police officers' observations, an arrest occurred for felony charges leading to the indictment.

Statutory Construction

The Court's review and analysis is governed by due deference to the separation of powers between the branches of state government and its obligation to strictly construe creatures of statute such as the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police.

Basic and axiomatic tenets of statutory construction require that the language of the legislation be carefully considered and given its plain and obvious meaning wherever possible. Put another way, where the statutory language is unequivocal, and the intent is clear, the Court must accord such legislative language its obvious intent.

" It is a general rule of statutory construction, however, that courts are obligated to interpret a statute to effect the intent of the Legislature according to the plain words used by the Legislature. Courts are not to legislate under the guise of interpretation" ( People v. Gabbidon, 10 Misc.3d 728 at 730, 803 N.Y.S.2d 905 [ citations omitted ] ).

In Matter of M.B., 6 N.Y.3d 437, 447, 813 N.Y.S.2d 349, 846 N.E.2d 794 [2006], the Court of Appeals clarified this undertaking.

" [The Court's] task— as it is in every case involving statutory interpretation— is to ascertain the legislative intent and construe the pertinent statutes to effectuate that intent. We begin with the statutory text, which is the clearest indicator of legislative purpose ( Majewski v. Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 583 [1998] ). If the language ... is clear and unambiguous, courts must give effect to its plain meaning' ( State of New York v. Patricia II, 6 N.Y.3d 160, 162, 811 N.Y.S.2d 289 [2006], quoting [973 N.Y.S.2d 548] Matter of Tall Trees Constr. Corp. v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Town of Huntington, 97 N.Y.2d 86, 91, 735 N.Y.S.2d 873, 761 N.E.2d 565 [2001] ). When the terms of related statutes are involved, as is the case here, they must be analyzed in context and in a manner that harmonize[s] the related provisions ... [and] renders them compatible' ( Tall Trees, 97 N.Y.2d at 91, 735 N.Y.S.2d 873, 761 N.E.2d 565)."

In County Lawyers' v. Bloomberg, 19 N.Y.3d 712, 721, 955 N.Y.S.2d 835, 979 N.E.2d 1162 [2012], the Court of Appeals provides additional guidance.

" It is fundamental that a court, in interpreting a statute, should attempt to effectuate the intent of the Legislature" ( Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. of City of N.Y. v. City of New York, 41 N.Y.2d 205, 208, 391 N.Y.S.2d 544, 359 N.E.2d 1338 [1976]; see also Matter of M.B., 6 N.Y.3d 437, 447, 813 N.Y.S.2d 349, 846 N.E.2d 794 [2006] ). To that end, in our present interpretation of County Law § 722, we must look first to the statutory text, which is the clearest indicator of legislative intent ( Majewski v. Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 583, 673 N.Y.S.2d 966, 696 N.E.2d 978 [1998] ). We are also guided in our analysis by the familiar principle that a statute must be construed as a whole and that its various sections must be considered together and with reference to each other ( People v. Mobil Oil Corp., 48 N.Y.2d 192, 199, 422 N.Y.S.2d 33, 397 N.E.2d 724 [1979] ).

The foregoing guidance from case law is also consistent with the provisions of McKinney's Statutes § 94, which states that " [t]he legislative intent is to be ascertained from the words and language used, and the statutory language is generally construed according to its natural and most ...


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