A New York court heard a case on June 20, 2003 relating to the conspiracy to sell drugs in a housing project. The court dismissed the first count of the indictment charging a conspiracy in the first degree. The state moved to reargue the portion of the court’s June 20, 2003 decision. The state submitted a memorandum that detailed the 66 counts of sale of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school per the court’s direction.
The Supreme Court looked first at the background of this first count on the indictment. The grand jury was presented with a case to establish the existence of what is commonly known as a “wheel conspiracy” to sell drugs. The objective was to sell drugs in a public housing project in Brooklyn. While some of the members of the conspiracy were juveniles, none of the juveniles were responsible for any of the class A felonies that were charged. The juveniles were used as front line contacts. When an undercover police officer requested an amount of drugs that the juvenile could not produce, he was introduced to one of the codefendants, Warren. The transaction which was a felony but not class A was completed. Several months later the undercover officer arranged to meet with Mr. Warren and this time a class A felony drug transaction occurred. Following this initial transaction, the undercover officer transacted three additional class A felony drug purchases from Mr. Warren.
New York Penal Law A § 105.17 states that:
“A person is guilty of conspiracy in the first degree when, with intent that conduct constituting a class A felony be performed, he, being over eighteen years of age, agrees with one or more persons under sixteen years of age to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct.”
The State contends that since the juveniles were under the age of sixteen and that they were the cause of the performance of the class A felony transaction that the defendants violated the conspiracy law. The defendants disagree with the manner in which the prosecutors interpret the wording of the law. Their contention is that one or more persons under the age of 16 must directly engage or cause another to engage in the class A felony in order for the statute to apply.
The court determined that the interpretation of each of the different sides of the argument is reasonable. The court thinks that the language of the law is “ambiguous” as to the terms of the agreement or who has to be one that engages in or causes the conduct. It is not clear if the juvenile would have to directly engage in the conduct, or if the juvenile could solicit the conduct to take place. In order to determine the intent of the law, the Justices looked at the history of it.
The history of this particular law was that there had been an increasing number of cases where adults had used juveniles to commit the front line criminal behavior in order to limit their own chances of being arrested and prosecuted. The intent was to make the use of juveniles as human shields for drug dealer less attractive and to make a point that the legislature “is seriously concerned with criminals who use children to prey on society.”
Even with this information in hand, the court determined that it was not enough that the juvenile introduced the detective to the adult in order to conduct the class “A” felony. Although, the state presented ample evidence that the juvenile had knowledge of the transaction. The court found that that this charge of the indictment would be dismissed.
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