Court Can Not Use Its Contempt Power to Compel the District Attorney to Prosecute a Criminal Matter
The District Attorney did not wish to proceed with disorderly conduct prosecutions against persons who demonstrated in support of the Occupy Movement. The City Court judge handling the cases, however, ordered the district attorney to appear at a scheduled suppression hearing, threatening to exercise the court’s contempt powers if the district attorney did not appear. The district attorney appeared but informed the judge no witnesses would be called. When the judge persisted, again threatening to use the contempt powers, the district attorney brought an Article 78 proceeding seeking a writ of prohibition. The writ was granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Under the doctrine of separation of powers, only the district attorney can decide whether to prosecute. The courts can not compel the prosecution of criminal actions:
“Prohibition is available to restrain an inferior court or Judge from exceeding its or his [or her] powers in a proceeding over which the court has jurisdiction” … . To demonstrate a clear legal right to the extraordinary writ of prohibition, a petitioner is required to show that the challenged action was “in reality so serious an excess of power incontrovertibly justifying and requiring summary correction” … .
“The concept of the separation of powers is the bedrock of the system of government adopted by this State in establishing three coordinate and coequal branches of government, each charged with performing particular functions” … . Under the doctrine of separation of powers, courts lack the authority to compel the prosecution of criminal actions … . Such a right is solely within the broad authority and discretion of the district attorney’s executive power to conduct all phases of criminal prosecution (see County Law § 700 … ).
The courts below correctly determined that a trial court cannot order the People to call witnesses at a suppression hearing or enforce such a directive through its contempt powers. Any attempt by the Judge here to compel prosecution through the use of his contempt power exceeded his jurisdictional authority. It is within the sole discretion of each district attorney’s executive power to orchestrate the prosecution of those who violate the criminal laws of this State … . Matter of Soares v Carter, 2015 NY Slip Op 03879, CtApp 5-7-15