Brooklyn Boro

De Blasio, Shea blame courts for violence; Legal Aid points out courts have arraigned 19,000

August 3, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The legal community immediately pushed back when Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea began scapegoating the court system for the recent rise in crime across New York City.

Last Monday, two Brooklyn lawyers blasted de Blasio’s remarks. The criminal courts, they pointed out, were never completely closed, and de Blasio’s remarks show that he lacks understanding of how the court system works, they said.

“It sounds like someone who doesn’t know how the court system works,” attorney Arthur Aidala said of de Blasio’s statements. “Even if we were having trials right now, they would be from incidents that would have happened over a year ago. Nothing happening in New York City over the last few months is happening because we’re not trying cases that are over a year old.”

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“There he goes again, speaking without the benefit of facts, logic or reason,” attorney Michael Farkas added. “Violent criminals aren’t shooting people by the dozens every week now because they think the courts are closed. The courts aren’t even closed.”

On Friday, a group of legal service providers joined in to criticize de Blasio and the commissioner. In an open letter, a coalition of groups pointed out that the court system, working mostly virtually, has still managed to process 19,000 arraignments during the pandemic.

“In fact, since mid-March, courts in New York City have held nearly 19,000 arraignments,” said the letter. “By executive order, these individuals’ right to have their cases presented to a grand jury if they are charged with a felony is suspended, as is their right to a speedy trial and other due process protections. Police therefore make arrests that result in a person’s incarceration or myriad other consequences as usual, and are, in effect, under no obligation to ensure that these cases stand up to the scrutiny of a grand jury.

“In other words, courts are open and people are on Rikers Island or contending with open criminal cases indefinitely on the untested word of police officers alone – an extremely problematic dynamic that raises questions about why police are complaining,” the letter continued.

The letter was written by a group that includes Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society, the Red Hook Initiative, GANGS Coalition, Black Attorneys of Legal Aid (BALA) Caucus, The Bronx Defenders, Justice Strategies, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Police Reform Organizing Project, The Policing & Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, and VOCAL-NY.

The letter goes on to say that since anyone who commits a crime is being arrested and prosecuted and people charged with “violent crimes” are not bail-eligible, the commissioner is suggesting that the NYPD wants to conduct larger sweeps that may not be possible the way the court is currently operating.

They go on to claim that such tactics, similar to a gang takedown that occurred in the Bronx in 2016, often lead to large numbers of people being arrested based on loose affiliations with little evidence using state conspiracy charges or federal RICO cases.

“Gang sweeps and federal prosecutions present more dangers to communities already facing gun violence: over-criminalization, incarceration, over-charging and theories of vicarious criminal liability – guilt by association – that result in the prosecution of racially and economically marginalized groups rather than individuals,” the letter said. “Because the penalties associated with these gang cases are so harsh, the pressure to plea, even in the absence of evidence, is great. This is no form of justice.”

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