The Third Department, reversing County Court’s level-three SORA risk-assessment, noted that the judge failed to set forth all of the relevant findings of fact and determined defense counsel was ineffective. Defense counsel was not aware that youthful offender adjudications can be considered by the SORA court and defense counsel failed to argue for a downward departure. The departure would have been warranted because defendant, who was 17 at the time, had been charged with a misdemeanor based on having sex with his girlfriend:
Failure to comply with the statutory mandate to make detailed findings on the record would alone require that the matter be remitted to County Court … . * * *
The only argument advanced by defendant’s counsel at the SORA hearing was a challenge to the assessment of 30 points under risk factor 9, on the basis that a youthful offender adjudication should be precluded in assessing defendant’s sex offender classification. That argument, however, was devoid of merit … , and demonstrated counsel’s unfamiliarity with existing and applicable case law … . * * *
… [Counsel] did not request a downward departure from the presumptive risk level three classification. The crime underlying the youthful offender adjudication was the class A misdemeanor of sexual misconduct … , stemming from defendant, who had just turned 17, having sexual intercourse with his girlfriend, who was about two months younger. Downward departure has been found appropriate where there is a “relatively slight age difference between [the] defendant and the victim [and] undisputed evidence that the victim’s lack of consent was premised only on her inability to consent by virtue of her age” … . Notwithstanding facts and case law that could support a reasonable argument for a downward departure here, counsel failed to make such a request. In our view, the foregoing establishes that defendant was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel … . People v Wilcox, 2023 NY Slip Op 06175, Third Dept 11-30-23
Practice Point: The judge in a SORA risk-level proceeding is required to make detailed findings of fact.
Practice Point: Defense counsel in a SORA risk-level proceeding is ineffective if counsel is not aware youthful offender adjudications can be considered by the SORA court.