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April 24, 2017

Decision Limits Justice Center Authority

In a case challenging the constitutionality of the legislation establishing the Justice Center, an Albany County Supreme Court Justice has issued a decision dismissing an indictment and ruling that the Justice Center did not have the authority to prosecute. People v. Viviani, (Indictment # 6-7976, Albany County, March 30, 2017 Thomas A. Breslin, S.C.J.). This case shows a judicial willingness to examine the constitutional limits of the Justice Center’s authority.

The Viviani case involved the Justice Center prosecution of a teacher at the Albany LaSalle School for troubled youngsters who was alleged to have had sex with one of her students. Justice Breslin refused to turn the case over to the Albany County District Attorney’s office, noting that the Justice Center was not properly authorized to prosecute the case when it obtained the indictment. The decision emphasized that consent of the District Attorney’s office is not sufficient; it must be shown that the elected prosecutors were involved and retained ultimate prosecutorial authority and responsibility from the inception of the criminal matter. The Justice Center noted that it was considering its options including appealing the court’s decision.  See Judge: Justice Center Needs to Work with Elected Prosecutors, Times Union (March 31, 2017).

The case is believed to be the first in which an indictment secured by the Justice Center has been dismissed based on the constitutionality of the enabling statute. The decision explicitly agreed with the dissent in People v. Davidson, 27 NY3d 1083 (2016), even though that case did not reach the constitutional issue.

The ramifications of the decision will at a minimum require the Justice Center to work closely with local district attorneys’ offices. In a broader sense, the decision marks a willingness to closely examine the constitutional limits to the Justice Center’s authority.

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