Youthful Offender Adjudications Allowed in Calculating Risk Level for Sex Offenders
People v. Francis
2018 NY Slip Op 01017
New York Court of Appeals
Decided on February 13, 2018
Issue: Whether the Criminal Procedure Law’s youthful offender provisions bar the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders from considering youthful offender adjudications to calculate a re-offense risk level.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the youthful offender statute does not prohibit the Board from considering youthful offender adjudications for the limited public safety purpose of accurately assessing an offender’s risk level to reoffend.
Facts: Defendant Francis was convicted of first-degree rape at the age of 19. He was designated as a level three (high risk) sex offender pursuant to New York’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). In calculating the defendant’s risk level, the Board of Sex Offenders Examiners tacked on 25 points for criminal history based on a prior Youthful Offender adjudication. However, the defendant claimed that the Board could not consider his Youthful Offender adjudication when assessing his risk to reoffend because the Board’s interpretation of its authority under SORA conflicts with Criminal Procedure Law’s youthful offender provisions.
CPL Article 720 Provisions
Pursuant to CPL Article 720, a Youthful Offender (YO) adjudication is not a criminal conviction. The Court of Appeals has recognized that a YO adjudication provides youths an opportunity for a fresh start without a criminal record burdening them. To ensure these YOs are provided this opportunity, CPL 720.35(2) provides that all YO documents are “confidential and may not be made available to any person or public or private agency.” There are, however, exceptions under CPL 720.35(2) that allows certain personnel access to these records, including the Board.
Sex Offender Registration Act
New York’s Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) mandates that individuals who have committed certain sex offenses must register publically as a sex offender. The Court pointed out that the primary purpose of this requirement is to protect the public and to notify law enforcement. The Board recommends to SORA three levels of notifications based on a point scale that calculates the offender’s risk to reoffend. Previous criminal history can tack on points and, thus, raise the offender’s risk level.
Francis’ Risk Assessment
Had the Board not considered the defendant’s YO adjudication, his risk level would have dropped from level three to level two. Defense counsel argued that since a YO adjudication is not a conviction pursuant to Article 720, the Board was barred from considering it as part of the defendant’s criminal history, and the SORA court rejected the argument. The Board maintained that the youthful offender adjudication must be taken into consideration because is an important factor in assessing the likelihood that the defendant would reoffend.
The defendant’s argument relied on People v. Campbell, 98 A.D.3d 5 (2012), where the Court of Appeals held that the Board may not assess points in a SORA hearing based on a prior juvenile delinquency adjudication. The People contested that Campbell is not controlling and that other courts, including the Court of Appeals, have held that the Board may consider YO adjudication for point assessment.
The Court of Appeals pointed out that YO adjudications are not seamlessly analogous to juvenile delinquency adjudications like in Campbell. One important distinction noted by the Court is that juvenile delinquency adjudications do not always follow a criminal conviction like YO adjudications. Thus, Campbell does not automatically preclude the Board or courts from considering YO adjudications for SORA risk level designation.
While the Court did not agree with the People that Correction Law §168-1(5) gave the Board specific statutory authority to access the youthful adjudication and consider it in SORA proceedings, it did provide that members of the Board are responsible for assessing the risk of a repeat offense and the threat posed to public safety.