April 29, 2019

Revealing confidential records resulting a youthful offender adjudication distinguished from answering questions about the facts underlying the incident.

The plaintiff, [P], allegedly was injured as a result of a physical altercation with D, the defendant, which had occurred in the hallway of the high school that they both attended at that time.

When, in the course of discovery during the litigation that followed in P's effort to recover damages for personal injuries she had allegedly suffered as the result of certain actions by D, D's attorney refused to produce D, who had been adjudicated a youthful offender, contending that, pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Law §720.35(2) [CPL], the information sought by P was protected by the confidentiality provisions provided by law with respect to adjudications involving youthful offenders.

P then asked Supreme Court to grant her motion to compel D to appear for, and answer questions at, the deposition. The court granted P's motion, denying D's legal guardian's motion for a protective order precluding the deposition of D. D's legal guardian appealed the Supreme Court's decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling, explaining that the relevant provisions of law concerning youthful offender status set out in the CPL were the result of  "a legislative desire not to stigmatize youths between the ages of 16 and 19 with criminal records triggered by hasty or thoughtless acts which, although crimes, may not have been the serious deeds of hardened criminals."

The primary advantage of youthful offender treatment, said the court, is "the avoidance of the stigma and practical consequences which accompany a criminal conviction." Further, noted the Appellate Division, CPL §720.35[1] provides that "youthful offender adjudication is not a judgment of conviction for a crime or any other offense" and consistent with "the statutory goal that eligible youths not be stigmatized by a youthful offender adjudication," provides that records relating to the prosecution shall be sealed.

However, opined the Appellate Division, the statutory grant of confidentiality afforded to such official records and the information contained therein "does not extend to the facts underlying the incident which gave rise to the youthful offender adjudication." Thus an eligible youth may not refuse, on grounds of confidentiality, to answer questions about the facts underlying the subject incident, "even though those facts also form the basis of his or her youthful offender adjudication."

The Appellate Division concluded that although D cannot be compelled to divulge the contents of the confidential records underlying her youthful offender adjudication, D can be compelled to answer questions about the facts underlying the incident.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: