The New York State Justice Center was established in 2013 to help protect the dignity, health, and safety of individuals with special needs. Part of the Justice Center’s mandate includes investigating and pursuing civil and criminal charges against those suspected of abuse or neglect. The Justice Center solely investigates staff members at programs or facilities that provide services to individuals with special needs. The fact that the Center is narrowly focused on staff members of designated facilities, as well as the secretive nature of their investigations, can make a Justice Center investigation feel like a witch hunt.
At E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, we represent employees of facilities under the Justice Center’s jurisdiction who are facing investigations of neglect or abuse. We understand that a Justice Center investigation can jeopardize not only your career, but also your reputation. We zealously defend the rights of professionals, advocating on their behalf throughout the investigatory process, as well as through the hearing and appeals process. E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy is one of the most respected and trusted law firms in Upstate New York, and is one of the only New York law firms with a robust professional defense practice.
What Organizations Does the NYS Justice Center Oversee?
The Justice Center advocates on behalf of individuals with special needs. Specifically, the Center investigates and files claims of abuse and neglect allegedly committed by staff members against individuals in their care. The Center has jurisdiction over the following agencies:
- The Office of Mental Health
- The Department of Health
- The Office of Children and Family Services
- The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities
- The State Education Department
- The Office of Addiction Services and Supports
When someone makes allegations that an individual receiving services at any of the above agencies was subject to abuse or neglect, the Justice Center will initiate an investigation. Having an attorney during the investigatory process is invaluable, as an attorney can ensure the investigation is fair and limited in scope, potentially preventing the need for a formal hearing.
Types of Justice Center Cases and the Investigatory Process
Not every report of abuse or neglect made to the Justice Center results in disciplinary action against an employee. When someone makes a claim of neglect or abuse, the Justice Center will open an administrative investigation and may, depending on the circumstances, also open up a criminal investigation. A criminal investigation is only conducted in cases involving an allegation of what may be a criminal offense. If criminal conduct is suspected, the Justice Center can work on its own or with local law enforcement to investigate the claim.
After the Justice Center decides which type of investigation to pursue, it begins the investigatory process. While investigations are case-specific, they will typically include an initial overview of the allegations, victim interviews, witness interviews, and subject interviews. All interviews are recorded.
The Justice Center and its Special Prosecutors are government actors who occasionally work in conjunction with law enforcement. Thus, in criminal investigations, the rights of an employee must be respected throughout the process. In most cases, the Center notifies a subject when a report against them is made; although, that is not always the case. However, for administrative investigations, the subject of an investigation does not enjoy the right to have an attorney present at an interview, unless that person is represented by a union.
Once the Justice Center finishes its investigation, it will make a final determination, finding that the allegations were either substantiated or unsubstantiated. Unclassified reports are immediately sealed and inaccessible to future employers. The Justice Center will substantiate a claim if the investigation shows that the claim is supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Justice Center classifies all substantiated claims as follows:
- Category 1: In cases involving serious physical assault or sexual abuse, the subject is placed on the Staff Exclusion List for life. Those on the Staff Exclusion List cannot be hired by any covered agency that serves people with special needs.
- Category 2: In cases involving actions that significantly endanger the health, safety, or welfare of an individual, the offense is sealed after five years. A second Category 2 offense within three years can be considered a Category 1 offense.
- Category 3: Incidents involving less serious incidents of abuse are also sealed after five years, and future employers are not made aware of the Center’s findings.
- Category 4: The final category involves situations in which a facility exposes individuals to harm or to a risk of harm, and situations where a claim was substantiated but no perpetrator can be identified.
If the Justice Center determines a report of abuse or neglect against a professional is substantiated, that person has the right to appeal that Justice Center’s determination. However, they must do so within 40 days of the decision. Those under investigation by the Justice Center should reach out to a dedicated New York criminal defense attorney to ensure that their rights are adequately protected throughout the process.
Contact an Experienced New York Criminal Defense Law Firm for Immediate Assistance
If you recently found out that you are subject to an investigation by the New York Justice Center, your career is on the line. At the New York law firm of E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, our elite team of attorneys provides professional defense representation to those facing Justice Center investigations. We skillfully and confidentially help clients who are subject to all administrative and criminal Justice Center investigations. Having decades of experience representing clients in a variety of administrative and disciplinary proceedings, we possess the necessary skill, knowledge, and dedication to help you successfully deal with the allegations you are facing. To learn more, you can reach us by phone or connect with us online.