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Court turned to the specific constitutional objections

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.

Bearing in mind the basic purpose of the statute, the Court turned to the specific constitutional objections. It is argued that the statements obtained from an alleged addict by the commission’s examining physician and which are then received in evidence to support the finding of addiction are inadmissible by reason of the fact that they were obtained in the absence of counsel.

These medical examinations, however, are used solely for diagnostic purposes. Any admission made to the doctor may not be received in evidence at the trial on the criminal charges. As the program is intended solely for the addict’s benefit, self incrimination becomes irrelevant. The addiction hearing is not designed as a means of giving an added sentence, but is intended to serve the function of assuring that the physician’s conclusion that the defendant is an addict is soundly based. It is the nonincriminating purpose of the examination that makes the privilege against self incrimination and the right to counsel inoperative at the physical examination.

All jails in some measure seek to have a program of rehabilitation, but in upholding, by way of dictum, a compulsory civil commitment program for narcotics rehabilitation. If compulsory commitment turns out in fact to be a veneer for an extended jail term and is not a fully developed, comprehensive and effective scheme, it will have lost its claim to be a project devoted solely to curative ends. It will then take on the characteristics of normal jail sentence, with a side order of special help. The moment that the program begins to serve the traditional purposes of criminal punishment, such as deterrence, preventive detention, or retribution, then the extended denial of liberty is simply no different from a prison sentence and the constitutional guarantees applicable to criminal proceedings will apply in full measure.

It is the reality that counts, not the metaphysical distinctions of the legal mind. For the same reason, it is not every deprivation of liberty that will bring into play all the constitutional provisions applicable to criminal trials. It is only those curtailments of liberty which serve the traditional purposes of the criminal law which require the full protections of a criminal trial.

A somewhat similar analysis will resolve the difficulties presented by the claim that the standard applied in criminal trials–proof of addiction beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than the prescribed preponderance of evidence –is necessary for a finding of addiction. Since the purpose of the certification is a rehabilitative one, it is legitimate to analogize it to a civil proceeding commenced against a noncriminal addict where the finding also may be made by a preponderance of the evidence. Nor can it be asserted that a higher burden is necessary to protect the alleged addict from a wrongful determination. The deprivation of his liberty will last only so long as is necessary to carry out the program of rehabilitation. The Court will not assume that the commission or its medical personnel with continue to deprive a person of his liberty if they determine that he is not truly an addict.

One final argument made is that requiring jury trials will impose a tremendous burden on the courts. Something more than this is required. Since the drug possession addiction hearing for civil commitments and for convicted addicts are alike both in substance and consequence, a jury trial must be available to the appellants here.

Nonconstitutional arguments have also been argued. The first is a question of statutory construction, and the second involves the scope of cross-examination of medical experts in addiction hearings.

There is no question that the statutory language is of little assistance in determining the Legislature’s intent. Some provisions indicate appellants’ contentions are correct, while others would support the People’s position that the ‘intake’ examination–even where no examination for addiction has been specifically ordered by the arraigning Judge–may serve a dual purpose of not only ascertaining the general state of appellants’ health but, additionally, whether a prisoner is addicted to drugs. However, as the purpose of the privilege is to induce persons to seek medical assistance by removing any fear that they will suffer embarrassment or disgrace or that any information disclosed to the physician will not be used adverse to them, the use of information obtained at intake examination or during the giving of medical treatment runs counter to this purpose if, as it appears, addicts consider the custody of the commission adverse to their interests. Moreover, the intake examination is also used to protect the general health of the inmate population, and its usefulness may well be impaired by a rule of disclosure. How the Legislature weighed these considerations is not easily discernable. Sometimes assault is a part of this situation.

But these medical criteria do not have the force of law and they do not constitute the definition required by the statute. Since the court permitted the doctor to state the general conclusion that the patient was an addict, it was certainly proper cross-examination for defense counsel to ask the doctor what his interpretation of addiction was and, in reaching his conclusion, what weight he gave to each fact or criterion. The purpose no doubt was to ascertain if there was any discrepancy between the doctor’s views and general medical opinion, and also to see if there was reason behind the conclusion. CPLR 4515 expressly permits such questions: ‘Upon cross-examination, he may be required to specify the data and other criteria supporting the opinion.’ While the chief purpose of this provision was to get away from hypotheticals.

One of our lawyers’ skills here in Stephen Bilkis and Associates is to render our service to our clients in an excellent manner. We make it a point that we fight for the right our client in a legal way. For criminal law concerns, we have Kings County Criminal attorneys who will ensure that your right is protected from abuse. For those who abused others by sexual manner consult our Kings County Sex Crimes lawyers now. We are very eager to guide and protect your rights.

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