Criminal Contempt in New York and the Identity of the Protected Person: What Role Does “Victim” Identity Have in a Criminal Complaint

Misdemeanor and Felony Criminal Contempt crimes and charges in New York, New York Penal Law 215.50 and New York Penal Law 215.51 respectively, often arises in the context of alleged violations of Orders of Protection. An Order of Protection is often issued by a Criminal or Family Court, and orders one person to refrain from contacting or being near a specific protected person or persons. In order to charge a person with violating an Order of Protection, the criminal complaint against that defendant must adequately allege the identity of the protected person, as well as what the defendant allegedly did that violated the terms of the Order of Protection. It may seem obvious that the prosecution must specify who the acts were committed against, and how they know that’s who it is, but a failure to make that allegation sufficiently was exactly the issue presented to the trial Court in People v. Pandiello, 54 Misc.3d 496 (NY Co. Crim Ct. 2016). This entry will address the significance of a protected party’s identity when prosecutors charge any one of New York Penal Law sections 215.50, 215.51 or 215.52.

In Pandiello, the complaint essentially alleged that the defendant was observed by a police officer speaking to and yelling at another person on the sidewalk, and that other person had an Order of Protection against the defendant at the time. The complaint simply stated the name of that protected person, without any reasons or support for how the police officer knew who this person was. This is an important legal requirement, and one that is easily overlooked by even a seasoned criminal defense attorney. Why? A mere conclusion does not satisfy an element of a crime without any foundation of basis.

For context, it is important to realize some of the differences in how criminal complaints are generated. In Manhattan, the jurisdiction in which Pandiello was litigated, Assistant District Attorneys, who are themselves attorneys, typically draft the criminal complaints. This is not so outside the City in counties such as Rockland and Westchester, where police officers typically draft the complaints. This leads to a much higher degree of variance with regard to the care and legal acumen utilized in the drafting of such complaints outside of New York City. The result of this is that criminal defense attorneys who practice exclusively in the City can potentially become somewhat complacent and assume, often with good reason, that the complaints against their clients will be well drafted and legally sufficient, alleging all of the necessary elements of the charged crimes adequately. Outside of New York City, dismissal of complaints fair facial insufficiency of the charges and allegation is much more common, and a more significant focus for the criminal attorney. It is critical for attorneys in all jurisdictions, within and without New York City, to stay vigilant in their assessment and review of even the most seemingly routine criminal complaints. As evidenced in Pandiello, even routine cases can raise novel issues of the legal sufficiency of criminal allegations.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients in Criminal Contempt cases throughout the New York City and Hudson Valley region. To read more about New York Domestic Violence arrest, crimes and laws, review the provided link.