NIVER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-019-553, Claim No. 106770, Motion No.
The State's motion to dismiss alleging claimant's inability to satisfy the
pleading requirements of CCA 8-b because of his youthful offender finding is
WILLIAM P. NIVER
Footnote (claimant name)
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name)
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
FITZSIMMONS REYNOLDS, LLPBY: Daniel J. Fitzsimmons, Esq., of counsel
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Carol A. Cocchiola, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
August 14, 2003
See also (multicaptioned
The defendant State of New York (hereinafter "State") moves to dismiss this
claim on the grounds it fails to comply with the statutory pleading requirements
of the Court of Claims Act (hereinafter "CCA") 8-b relative to unjust conviction
claims. More specifically, the sole basis of the State's motion is the
contention that a youthful offender adjudication cannot support an unjust
conviction claim pursuant to CCA 8-b. Claimant opposes the motion.
The Court has considered the following papers in connection with this
Claim, filed October 10, 2002.
Notice of Motion No. M-66924, dated June 5, 2003, filed June 9, 2003.
Affirmation of Carol A. Cocchiola, AAG, in support of the motion, dated June 5,
2003, with attached exhibit.
Memorandum of Law, in support of motion, dated June 5, 2003.
Affirmation of Daniel J. Fitzsimmons, Esq., in opposition to motion, filed June
Reply Affirmation of Carol A. Cocchiola, AAG, in support of the motion, dated
June 20, 2003, and filed June 23, 2003.
A review of the underlying facts is warranted here even though a detailed
factual recitation is set forth in the opinion of the State of New York Supreme
Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department. (People v EE., 276
AD2d 918). This claim arises from an incident which occurred on October 9, 1997
in the Village of Montour Falls, Schuyler County, New York. Schuyler County
Sheriff Deputies John Pierce and Michael Ruocco responded to a domestic incident
call involving claimant and his girlfriend. Upon arriving at the scene,
Schuyler County Sheriff Deputies Pierce and Ruocco began questioning the
principals, as well as neighbors. Soon thereafter, Deputy Pierce:
requested that [claimant] come from around a fence so that they could talk
without distractions. [Claimant] complied. At this time, [claimant] was
specifically told that he was not under arrest and that Pierce just "wanted to
talk to him." When [claimant] approached the patrol car, Pierce opened its back
door and requested that [claimant] get inside. [Claimant] responded that "he
wasn't going to get into the car because [Pierce] had no reason to arrest him."
Pierce repeated his claim that [claimant] was not going to be arrested,
specifically told [claimant] that he had no grounds to arrest him and repeated
his desire to simply talk to him in the car. [Claimant] became increasingly
upset and began yelling that "he didn't do anything" and that Pierce did not
"have any right to arrest him."
(People v EE., 276 AD2d at 918).
Soon thereafter the deputies believed claimant was attempting to run so they
grabbed his shirt from behind and forced him to the ground. During this
physical altercation each deputy injured a finger. As a result, claimant was
indicted on two counts of assault in the second degree and resisting arrest.
(Penal Law 120.05  & 205.30). At the time of this incident, claimant was
17 years old, born on October 29, 1979.
The facts and time line relative to the subsequent legal proceedings with
respect to this matter are undisputed. After a jury trial, claimant was found
guilty on the two assault charges but acquitted on the resisting arrest charge.
According to the "Sentence & Commitment" statement, claimant received
consecutive sentences of 90 days on each
Notably, however, claimant was found
to be a youthful offender and his conviction was vacated and replaced by a
youthful offender adjudication pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law ("CPL") 720.20
et seq. Claimant was incarcerated from March 10, 1999 through April 5, 1999 in
the Schuyler County jail for a total of 27 days.
On October 26, 2000, the Third Department reversed the judgment finding "[t]hat
there was legally insufficient evidence that defendant intended to prevent a
police officer from performing a lawful duty necessary to support his
convictions for assault in the second degree [citations omitted]." (People v
EE., 276 AD2d at 919). More specifically, the Third Department determined
that claimant's "[c]onduct in doing that which he was legally entitled to
do–refusing to get into the patrol car–did not give the Deputies
reasonable suspicion to detain him or constitute an intention on his part to
interfere with their investigation." (Id.). The judgment was reversed,
on the law, and the indictment dismissed.
This claim was filed with the Clerk of the Court on October 10, 2002 and served
on the Office of the Attorney General on October 15, 2002 by certified mail,
return receipt requested.
The State filed a
Verified Answer on November 25, 2002 which contained, among other things, two
affirmative defenses directed to the insufficiency of the claim under CCA 8-b
and the inapplicability of said statute in light of claimant's youthful offender
The State's position on this motion is that it is legally impossible for
claimant to establish that he has been convicted as required by CCA 8-b, because
his conviction was vacated and replaced by a youthful offender adjudication
pursuant to the CPL.
In opposition, claimant does not deny the apparent incongruity of these
statutory provisions, but instead emphasizes that CCA 8-b must be construed to
include youthful offenders such as claimant since a conviction is a necessary
prerequisite for a youthful offender adjudication. Further, claimant argues
that despite his youthful offender adjudication he still suffered the
indignities of an unjust conviction inasmuch as he was "[c]harged, tried and
convicted in a public trial of a felony offense [and] was incarcerated in an
adult facility and subject to the same deprivations, indignities and humiliation
as any other prisoner." (Affirmation of Daniel J. Fitzsimmons, Esq., ¶
The sole question before this court is whether a youthful adjudication serves
as a proper foundation for a cause of action under CCA 8-b. For the reasons
that follow, this court finds that it does.
At issue here is the portion of CCA 8-b, the Unjust Conviction statute, which
[i]n order to present the claim for unjust conviction and imprisonment, claimant
must establish by documentary evidence that:
(a) he has been convicted of one or more felonies or misdemeanors against
the state and subsequently sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and has served
all or any part of the sentence....
(CCA 8-b  [a]; emphasis added).
The legislative purpose underlying the passage of CCA 8-b provides compelling
guidance for a resolution of the issue before this court by expressly stating as
[t]he legislature finds and declares that innocent persons who have been wrongly
convicted of crimes and subsequently imprisoned have been frustrated in seeking
legal redress due to a variety of substantive and technical obstacles in the law
and that such persons should have an available avenue of redress over and above
the existing tort remedies to seek compensation for damages.
(CCA 8-b ). Such purpose is further expounded upon in the Report of the Law
Revision Commission to the Governor on Redress for Innocent Persons Unjustly
Convicted and Subsequently Imprisoned (hereinafter "Law Revision Report") which
clearly stresses the goal of providing a remedy for unjust convictions in
recognition of the "deprivation and humiliation that such persons suffer."
(1984 McKinney's Session Laws of NY, at 2902).
The State argues these legislative goals of CCA 8-b will not be impeded by
excluding unjustly convicted youthful offenders from this statute, because
youthful offenders do not suffer in the same manner as unjustly convicted adults
due to the various benefits available to youthful offenders, such as vacating
and replacing the conviction, as well as a continuing eligibility to hold public
office, receive any licenses, and the sealing of related records. (CPL 720.35
 & ).
This court finds unavailing the State's attempts to minimize the harm suffered
by this claimant or any other youthful offender ultimately determined to have
been unjustly convicted and subsequently imprisoned. Youthful offender status
was created with the specific purpose of saving eligible youths from the
lifelong stigma and adverse consequences that necessarily flow from a criminal
conviction stemming from–for lack of a better phrase–a youthful
indiscretion (People v Cook, 37 NY2d 591, 595) and, as such, certain
procedures were put in place to achieve this goal. For instance, the youthful
offender procedure dictates, among other things, that "[u]pon determining that
an eligible youth is a youthful offender, the court must direct that the
conviction be deemed vacated and replaced by a youthful offender finding...."
(CPL 720.20 ). While CPL 720.35 expressly provides that "[a] youthful
offender adjudication is not a judgment of conviction for a crime or any other
offense...", nevertheless, it is well settled that the youthful offender
procedure is at its core a criminal process whereby an individual is charged,
tried, and convicted as any adult would be under the law, but which provides a
court an alternative sentencing option. (People v Michael A.C., 27 NY2d
79, 85). In other words, the benefits of a youthful offender adjudication flow
to an individual only after being arrested, charged, tried and convicted as any
criminal defendant. Here, claimant was charged, tried and convicted in a public
trial of a felony offense and incarcerated in an adult facility for 27 days.
Although claimant's conviction was vacated and substituted with adjudication as
a youthful offender, any argument that he has not suffered "deprivation and
humiliation" must fail in view of the entire underlying criminal process and
conviction preceding his eligibility for youthful offender treatment and
Moreover, the Court rejects the State's attempt to describe unjustly convicted
adults, as opposed to unjustly convicted youthful offenders, as forever laboring
under various legal disabilities caused by such conviction. To the contrary,
any legal disabilities caused by a later reversed conviction will ultimately be
removed for the adult as well, albeit a significant period of time later as
compared to the youthful offender who receives such benefits immediately upon
sentencing. In and of itself, however, the immediacy of said benefit of
youthful offenders adjudication should not extinguish an otherwise viable unjust
conviction cause of action for a youthful offender later determined to have been
unjustly convicted and subsequently imprisoned, although it may well have some
relevance on the issue of damages.
Also, the court notes that deeming the term "conviction" to include a youthful
offender under limited circumstances is not a novel concept. For instance, CPL
390.15 (1) (b), relating to mandatory HIV testing in certain cases, provides
that: "[t]he terms 'defendant', 'conviction' and 'sentence' mean and include,
respectively, an 'eligible youth,' a 'youthful offender finding' and a 'youthful
offender sentence'...." Additionally, CPL 530.12 (5) states that "[u]pon
conviction of any crime or violation between spouses, parent and child, or
between members of the same family or household, the court may in addition to
any other disposition, including a conditional discharge or youthful offender
adjudication, enter an order of protection." CPL 530.12 (5) also states that
"[f]or purposes of determining the duration of an order of protection entered
pursuant to this subdivision, a conviction shall be deemed to include a
conviction that has been replaced by a youthful offender adjudication."
Moreover, deciding to the contrary would force eligible youths standing
convicted of a crime to choose, upon such conviction, between the benefits of a
youthful offender adjudication and the potential for a civil monetary recovery
under CCA 8-b in the event the conviction were ultimately reversed and the
statutory requirements otherwise satisfied. The court will not countenance such
a situation particularly in view of the Law Revision Report's emphasis on the
concept of providing a potential remedy for an innocent person who
has been unjustly convicted and subsequently imprisoned. In this court's
view, to limit the breadth of the statute by focusing on the use of the word
"convicted" without regard to the overall purpose and intent of the
statute–a remedy for innocent persons unjustly convicted and subsequently
imprisoned–would be contrary to stated legislative goals, encouraging form
over substance. In short, the State's argument, based purely on semantics, is
contrary to the stated legislative goals of CCA 8-b.
A brief discussion is warranted regarding the main case upon which the State
relies, namely a 1993 Court of Claims decision, Pabon v State of New
York. (Pabon v State of New York, Ct Cl., March 31, 1993, Blinder,
J., Claim No. 82806, Motion No. M-44228). In Pabon, Judge Blinder
determined that an infant adjudged to be a juvenile delinquent "cannot prove
that he was convicted when on its face such Family Court adjudication cannot be
considered a conviction [citation omitted]." (Pabon, at p 4). This
court finds Pabon distinguishable from the case at bar. The youthful
offender procedure differs in significant ways from the juvenile delinquent
process. Most notably, a juvenile delinquent adjudication is not the result of
a criminal process, as is the youthful offender procedure, but rather is a
proceeding in which the needs and best interests of the infant are balanced in
family court and in which the criminal procedure law does not apply. (Family
Court Act 302.1 & 303.1). As such, Pabon is not dispositive of the
issue before this court.
In view of the foregoing, this court finds that the term "conviction" as used
in CCA 8-b means and includes a youthful offender finding. As such, the State's
motion to dismiss, Motion No. M-66924, is DENIED.
Binghamton, New York
HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court
Claimant was also sentenced to five years
probation and ordered to pay restitution if the victim submitted a claim for
The Claim originally asserted two causes of
action, namely unjust conviction and unlawful imprisonment, but the parties have
since entered into a Stipulation whereby the claim was limited solely to an
unjust conviction cause of action.