Under New York Law, a District Attorney can issue a Superior Court Information (in NY commonly called “SCI”). This document holds the same weight and power as a Grand Jury Indictment. However, these documents are very different from each other.
CPL 200.15: NY SCI Defined
The legal definition of what a Superior Court Information is comes from Criminal Procedure Law Section 200.15. Specifically, it is a written
accusation a district attorney filed in a superior court, charing a person or persons with the commission of two or more offenses, at least one of which is a crime. A Superior Court Information includes unindicted felonies, as well as any other charges that are “properly joinable.”
New York SCI: Properly Joinable Offenses
Under Criminal Procedure Law Sections 200.20, offenses are properly joinable when they are:
- Based upon the same act or the same criminal transaction; OR
- Different criminal transactions, but proof of one would be admissible in the trial of the other; OR
- Defined by the same or similar statutory provisions, and therefore are similar in law; OR
- Not joinable to each other, but joinable to a third offense in the indictment; OR
Furthermore, under Criminal Procedure Law Sections 200.40, defendants are properly joinable when:
- They are jointly charged with every offense allegation; OR
- Offenses charged are based on the same scheme, plan or criminal transaction; OR
- The Indictment includes a count of enterprise corruption.
Difference Between NY SCI and an Indictment
Each person charged with a felony in New York must be prosecuted by an Indictment. An Indictment is a document containing criminal charges that the Grand Jury returns after listening to testimony and determining there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.
Meanwhile, a Superior Court Information is a legal document prepared and filed by the District Attorney’s Office with the Defendant’s consent. The Grand Jury, however never gets to weigh in on the charges on the SCI. Rather, that is a conversation that happens between the prosecutor and defense counsel.
Individuals in New York State have a right to have their felony case heard by a Grand Jury. Therefore, they must consent to resolving their case through an SCI. In fact, waiver of Grand Jury Indictment must be done in writing, in open court and in the presence of the defense attorney.
Class “A” Felonies Excluded from SCIs
Importantly, Class “A” felonies, which are the most serious crimes, cannot be prosecuted and resolved through an SCI. These types of cases require an Indictment; thus a waiver won’t suffice.
What Information Does SCI Contain?
The SCI must contain the following information:
- Court Name;
- Case Number (called SCI Number);
- Defendant’s Name;
- Date of the Crime; AND
- Crime Charged (Penal Law Section and Statutory Language)
Waiver of Grand Jury Indictment and Rights Given Up
A written Waiver of an Indictment Form explains the rights that an individual is giving up. Specifically, Criminal Procedure Law Sections 195.10 and 195.20, require that waiver must contain the following information:
- Individuals have a right to have their felony maters prosecuted by an Indictment;
- Instead, they are giving up that right and agree to be prosecuted by a Superior Court Information;
- Which has the same force and effect as an Indictment;
- However, it is a document that is filed by the District Attorney’s Office and not the Grand Jury.
If the waiver contains this information, and signed by the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the defendant, the Court shall approve the waiver and sign a written order.
Why Agree to NY SCI Plea?
The Grand Jury functions as both a sword and a shield of the criminal justice system. Meaning, it is able to dismiss cases with insufficient evidence, protecting the rights of those wrongly accused. However, the Grand Jury is also able to return an Indictment on cases with sufficient evidence to believe that the defendant committed a crime. Thus, acting like a sword with moving the case forward.
Grand Jury is a One-Sided Presentation of Evidence
As the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Sol Wachtler famously said in 1985, “A Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich.” Since the Government is the only party presenting evidence, the Grand Jury is a very one-sided process. Thus, unless a Defendant testifies, there is over a 99% chance that the Grand Jury will return an Indictment.
Benefits of New York SCI Plea
The main benefit of waiving a Grand Jury Indictment is a good plea offer. One that otherwise may not be available after the Grand Jury returns an Indictment. As the prosecutor has many cases and a limited amount of time, s/he may be interested in extending a generous plea. Rather than go through the time to investigate the case fully and present it to the Grand Jury. SCI Pleas make sense in situations, where the Indictment may be imminent and the evidence against a client is overwhelming. It is important that prior to agreeing to waive Grand Jury, you discuss with your attorney in great detail whether the SCI plea is the best thing for you.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Waving your right to a Grand Jury is a big decision that cannot be taken lightly. Contact us today to discuss your case.