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People v. Cook

New York Court of Appeals

March 30, 2017

The People & c., Appellant,
v.
William Cook, Respondent.

          Edward D. Saslaw, for appellant.

          Lisa Napoli, for respondent.

          GARCIA, J.

         In this case, we are asked to determine whether sentencing courts in two different counties may each render Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) risk level determinations based upon a single set of "Current Offense[s]" forming the basis of a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI). We hold that, under these circumstances, only one determination is permitted and, accordingly, we affirm the order of the Appellate Division.

         I.

         Defendant committed multiple sexual offenses against four children - three boys under the age of eleven, and a young girl suffering from cerebral palsy - in both Queens and Richmond Counties [1]. Prosecution was coordinated between the two District Attorneys' offices, and charges were brought and pleas negotiated in each county.

         In Richmond County, defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree sodomy committed against one seven-year-old boy. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Richmond County Supreme Court sentenced defendant to a term of 7 1/2 to 15 years' imprisonment, to run concurrently with defendant's Queens County sentence.

         In Queens County, defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree rape of the 12-year-old girl, and to first-degree attempted sodomy and two counts of first-degree sexual assault as to the three remaining victims. During the plea allocution, the People agreed not to pursue additional charges as to a fifth named victim whom defendant confessed he also sexually abused. Pursuant to a second plea agreement, Queens County Supreme Court sentenced defendant to 15 years' imprisonment, to run concurrently with lesser terms and with defendant's Richmond County sentence, followed by four years' post-release supervision.

         In August 2012, in anticipation of defendant's scheduled November 22, 2012 release, the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders (the Board) prepared a case summary and RAI that evaluated defendant's risk of reoffending and the harm that would be inflicted if he did reoffend. The Board's risk assessment recommendation was based on a review of defendant's file, including pre-sentence and probation reports from both the Queens and Richmond County offenses. The Board assessed 125 points and classified defendant "at a level III (High) risk for re-offending, with absolutely no basis for departure." Pursuant to its obligation under SORA, the Board notified the sentencing courts and District Attorneys in both counties of its recommendation and forwarded defendant's completed RAI and case summary (see Correction Law § 168-l [6]).

         In September 2012, the Richmond County sentencing court conducted a SORA risk assessment hearing. The record before that court contained information regarding the conduct underlying all of the offenses committed by defendant in both counties - including materials provided by the Queens District Attorney - even though defendant pleaded guilty only to abusing a single victim in Richmond County. Following the hearing, the Richmond County SORA court assessed defendant 125 points [2] and adjudicated him a level III, sexually violent offender.

         In late November 2012, shortly after the Richmond County adjudication, the Queens County sentencing court notified counsel and defendant that it would conduct an additional risk assessment hearing. Defendant moved to dismiss the proceeding, arguing that it was duplicative of the Richmond County risk level determination and that it was barred by res judicata. In response, the People contended that SORA requires each sentencing court to render an independent adjudication and that res judicata was not a bar to compliance with that obligation.

         In April 2013, the Queens County sentencing court denied defendant's motion to dismiss the Queens County SORA proceeding. The court ruled it was (1) required by statute (Correction Law § 168-d [1] [a] and 168-d [3]) to assess every offender convicted in that court, and (2) not bound by the Richmond County adjudication because that county's SORA-qualifying offenses were different, and because the entire adjudication process was "case and fact specific."

         A Queens County SORA hearing was subsequently held, and defendant was assessed 105 points, making him a presumptive level two offender. Nonetheless, the court adjudicated defendant a level three, sexually violent offender after granting the People's request for an upward departure based on numerous aggravating factors.

         On appeal, defendant again argued that the Queens County adjudication was not authorized by statute and was barred by res judicata. The Appellate Division agreed and reversed the Queens County SORA court's order denying defendant's motion to dismiss the SORA risk assessment hearing (128 A.D.3d 928, 929 [2nd Dept 2015]). The court concluded that "[t]he only reasonable interpretation of the statute and Guidelines, and the one that most effectuates SORA's purpose, is that only one SORA 'disposition' may be made per 'Current Offense, ' or group of 'Current ...


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