Recently in a criminal case, the Court had the occasion to consider the constitutionality of the provisions of the Narcotics Control Act of 1966 as they relate to the compulsory treatment of narcotics addicts who have neither been charged with nor convicted of any criminal activity. The Court upheld the substantive provisions of the law, but certain constitutional deficiencies were found in its procedural provisions. In these five cases, the constitutionality of the provisions of the act as they apply to the commitment of the addict convicted of sex crimes is attacked.
A Kings County Criminal lawyer said that the statutory framework for the convicted addict program is to be found in sections 207 and 208 of the Mental Hygiene Law, Consol. Laws, c. 27. Under the law certification to the custody of the commission may occur in one of two ways. If the defendant petitions the court that he is an addict and requests civil commitment, the court may in its discretion grant the application provided the defendant meets certain stringent requirements. He must have had no prior felony conviction, no previous certification, and the present charge against him must be one not punishable by death or life imprisonment. In addition, if he faces a felony charge, the District Attorney must also consent.
The effect of the granting of a request for civil certification is to bring about an automatic dismissal of the criminal charges with no loss of civil rights as a citizen.
Where, however, for various reasons, other than nonaddiction, civil commitment is ruled out, the trial of the criminal charges will then proceed. If the trial terminates in a conviction, be it by plea or after trial, the trial court will review the report of the medical examination and, if the court is satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant is a narcotics addict, it must, in all cases where the defendant stands convicted of a crime punishable other than by death or life imprisonment, notify the defendant of its opinion and ask the defendant whether he wishes to admit to the addiction.
Before making the inquiry, however, the court must also inform the defendant of his right to deny or stand mute on the issue and his right to a hearing with respect to the issue of his addiction. If, either by admission or after a hearing, it is found that the defendant is an addict, and the crime involved is a misdemeanor or the offense of prostitution, the court must certify the defendant to the commission’s custody for a period of three years. In the case of a felony conviction, however, the court has discretion to certify a defendant to the commission’s custody for a period of up to five years. In both situations the addict may be discharged earlier as rehabilitated. If the court does not follow this course, the defendant is sentenced in accordance with the provisions of the Penal Law. Defendants convicted of a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment are ineligible for certification even if they are addicts.
Finally, the statute specifies that certification to the custody of the commission after conviction shall be deemed a judgment of conviction.
The constitutional objections raised are these. It is claimed that the constitutional rights of appellants were violated when statements obtained from them in the absence of counsel by the arresting police officer or during the course of the medical examination conducted to determine addiction were admitted in evidence at their addiction hearings. Also, it is contended that the statute is unconstitutional both in providing for a trial without a jury on the issue of addiction and in requiring proof of addiction by only a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. Drug Possession was not charged.
The Court held that in failing to accord a convicted addict a jury trial on the issue of his addiction, section 208 of the Mental Hygiene Law violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Save in that respect the statute contains no constitutional defect, and no constitutional rights of appellants were violated at their hearings.
To Be cont…..
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