NYC Courts Issue Rules To Ram Through Gun Cases, Under Political Pressure

Yves here. Your humble blogger is no fan of New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams. The one-time police captain turned pol has shown a lack of concern about public interest in his effort to name his brother as police chief and a former police officer caught in a corruption scandal as deputy mayor of public safety. Under criticism, Adams had to back down and put his brother in a less important role. Adams is also a bitcoin tout. Political scientist Tom Ferguson said that crypto industry players have made a big push at the mayor level and appear to have funded at least eight mayors, Adams included sufficiently to turn them into promoters. So the gun gimmick we’ll explain shortly should come as no surprise.

The “tough on crime” positioning that an official like Adams implicitly embodies is useful to a Team Dem that is vulnerable to attacks on policing. You can’t co-opt Black Lives Matter, let it promote “defund the police” which is so vague as to enable the right wing to define it in the worst possible manner. Mind you, New York City does have more crime in the wake of Covid. But addressing that is not what this scheme is about. Instead it is likely to harm defendants who can’t get exculpatory evidence, like DNA samples, processed quickly enough, without doing much about actual criminals.

By George Joseph. Originally published at THE CITY on Mar 8, 2022

The NYPD displayed weapons from a gun bust, Oct. 5, 2021. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

New York City’s courts are implementing new rules designed to speed gun possession cases through the system, reacting to political pressure while sparking concerns that some defendants could be railroaded.

Court administrators in all five boroughs will now steer gun possession cases to specialized courtrooms, where judges will push prosecutors to provide evidence and plea offers, and hold routine check-ins aimed at moving cases along, THE CITY has learned.

The protocols also seek to limit delays, cut down on the time between hearings, and hasten judges’ decisions on motions and sentencing.

The mandate, detailed in a three-page memo sent by court administrators to judges last week and reviewed by THE CITY, came several weeks after Mayor Eric Adams blamed a backlog of court cases for contributing to gun violence, borrowing a page from his predecessor.

“This pandemic has frayed the social safety net at every level, and has had a long-lasting, damaging impact on our justice system,” Adams said at a speech in late January announcing his “blueprint” on gun violence. “Our court system is operating at a fraction of its previous capacity, and it has put our communities at risk.”

Adams is scheduled to present his blueprint to Congress on Tuesday, in a sign of his political influence on the issue.

Currently, the five boroughs’ Supreme Court divisions are juggling nearly 3,000 gun cases, just over half of which have stayed in the system for more than six months, according to Office of Court Administration data.

George Grasso, the administrative judge of Queens Supreme Court and an architect of the fast-track effort, said the new mandates — which build on an already existing speed-up program — show just how invested the courts are in tackling the system’s long-standing gun case backlog.

“How long have you been hearing, coming from district attorneys, coming from the previous mayoral administration, coming from the NYPD, ‘How come the court isn’t moving these cases faster?” he said. “Well, here we go. Here are the rules. This is how we’re going to try and do it.”

‘A PR Strategy’

Richard Aborn, president of the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission, applauded the new rules, which he said could deter gun violence by signaling swift sanctions for the carrying of illegal weapons.

“There have to be immediate consequences,” he said. “You have to understand that if you do something today, there are going to be consequences, very, very quickly.”

Defense attorneys, and even some current and former prosecutors, argue that the initiative limits their ability to come to plea agreements that take into account the complex social realities that drive people in poor, high-crime neighborhoods to carry illegal guns.

An August 2020 Center for Court Innovation survey of more than 300 young New Yorkers deemed to be at risk for gun violence found that four out of five reported they had been shot, or shot at, at least once. The majority, nearly all Black and Latino, told researchers that they had obtained illegal guns between the ages of 14 and 17. Many viewed guns as a tool for survival, especially for those shunted into the black market economy.

One Manhattan defense attorney said speeding cases does no favors for her clients.

“To resolve gun cases in an equitable manner that enhances community safety, we need time to investigate mitigating circumstances and assist our clients with accessing services for unmet behavioral and mental health needs,” said Alice Fontier, managing director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “Instead, [the Office of Court Administration’s] policy pushes our clients to suppression hearings, trial and into incarceratory plea deals often before we even have complete discovery from the DA’s office.”

Adam Uris, a criminal defense attorney and former Brooklyn prosecutor, points out that the right to a speedy trial right is enshrined in New York state law for defendants, not DAs. People weighing whether they should go to trial or to take a plea deal, potentially resulting in several years upstate, should not be rushed in any jurisdiction, he asserted.

“It makes you wonder, why are young black and brown kids not entitled to their constitutional protections, just as much as a kid in Westchester?” he said.

Some in district attorney’s offices assert that the new rules focus too much on pro-forma check-ins, and too little on processes, like DNA testing, which can take months to complete.

“This is a PR strategy, not a gun violence strategy,” said one city prosecutor, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “But after they got bashed by the mayor and the police, it’s nakedly clear that they want to make a public show of pushing gun cases forward with the emphasis being on ‘public show.’”

In a phone call with THE CITY, Grasso dismissed the criticism. He said that the change could actually help defendants by getting them discovery materials and plea offers more expeditiously.

“Everything that everybody is entitled to, they are still entitled to,” he said. “We’re just looking to move everything faster.

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  1. Pat

    Adams is pretty much a one trick pony, but he is an agile. I am not sure the same can be said for Hochul. Our mayor is making the rounds with Hochul on public policies regarding business and arts and yes Covid, but when I can stomach watching him, he often manages to thread crime into his remarks on whatever is going on regarding “opening” the city. The media helps, blood sells.* In the meanwhile Hochul’s major opponent in the coming primary for Governor is pounding her on guns and bail reform (he is against the version we currently have). Albany is an issue for all NYC mayors and he is threading a fine needle here, while solidifying his power base on as many fronts as possible.

    Where all of this is really failing is in addressing the crumbling mental health structures that were inadequate before Covid and have practically disintegrated under the crush since. Most of our scariest and sensational recent crimes are certainly the result of this. Yet none of these tough on crime plans do nothing more than hand wave at the issue. And honestly it is of little interest and too much work for any of the politicians, but most particularly Adams.

    *sensational pounding of crime in the city is working, someone who regales me with stories about the Westies in Hell’s Kitchen in the sixties is positively spooked and paranoid about the city right now. And while crime is certainly not good here, I think we have a ways to go to get back to the seventies level of street crime. The white collar crimes on the other hand…

    1. JBird4049

      Paraphrasing a writer about Black communities in Los Angeles: they are overpoliced and underserved.

      One can use the same description for many, perhaps most, of the poor communities in America. The police are increasingly acting like an occupying army that can do whatever it wants without consequences. They are also pretty much the most well funded part of any municipality. The courts are not only underfunded (especially the defense) they often work with the prosecutors and the police against the accused. Not everywhere, but often enough.

      So we have a system that presumes that any accused is guilty, with inadequate, often shrinking, resources for necessary services like water, sewage, roads, and yes mental health. The police are poorly trained and often violent. Worse, they have no accountability. If you call them, it might go
      well or it might not. Honestly, most police are good, but if they panic and shot me for no good reason, they are going home. Me? I would be doing time for doing the same thing unless I have a real good excuse and an unusually forgiving prosecutor. The police are Professional Managerial Class adjacent where being incompetent gets you promoted. Or like the wars and crashing economies caused by the unaffected elites. They get re-elected or re-appointed. Some poor dude trying to protect himself does years.

      That is the thing. We know what works in reducing gang violence or gun use and it’s not ramming people through the courts often on dodgy evidence. Often the evidence is gotten illegally, but the police are believed and the courts forgiving. Hell, police gun task forces along with the ones for drugs is often the most corrupt or uses the most illegal tactics. This drives the community away from the police, the courts, and the government. The solutions are not sexy, but they work. However, it is often labeled soft on crime or as my aunt explained to me,(Boston here, but elsewhere as well) when they do work they lose funding, which means trying to stop the next increase in police funding that does not stop gun violence. Because it’s tough on crime or something. It’s sexy. After eliminating the services that worked.

      I could go on for hours and I am being overly broad here talking about a country with 335 million people and fifty states; what NYC is doing is the same awful stuff as the war on some drugs that been going for fifty years. A “war” started by President Richard M. Nixon to demonize the Black community and get support and votes. All that is going to happen is people being overcharged, overpunished, often railroaded, and for crimes that the wealthy or connected will walk away from. Damn it. Lives callously destroyed for political gain.

      1. Pat

        Our main approach to policing is the same as our approach to diplomacy – be the heavily armed 800 lb bully.
        Guns were only involved in a few of the crimes covered most extensively here – a couple of shoot outs on the streets, the shootings of the fast food workers and the shootings of the two police officers. The latter which I raise an eyebrow about involved a long mentally troubled man shooting them after the relatively green officers answered a call from the mother about not be able to control or help her son. That it meant three deaths was largely ignored in the follow up vigil at the hospital and two state funerals for the police officers.
        There were no guns involved in the continuing series of crimes in the subway that involved people being pushed to the tracks, being jumped and smeared with feces and now random hammer attacks. The fear of being pushed onto the tracks was so prominent and media fixated that it became the only thing that got any plans for action outside of guns and reforming bail reform. Sadly that was cursory proforma police chasing homeless from the train with no plans on where and preliminary studies for gates in a system that cannot install them in many stations.

        I fear that the coming pressures on people and services that our already overstretched by inflation from our bigfooting it in Ukraine and now trying sanctions are only going to make things worse. And nationally, on the state level and clearly here on the local level the real problems with difficult solutions will be ignored for bombast and flashy sounding plans that only make things worse.

  2. vegasmike

    New York City unlike many other places in America does not have a deep gun culture. The Sullivan laws have been on the book since 1911. Gun ownership is much less common for people in New York than in the most of the country. There are very few passionate defenders of the 2nd amendment in the city. Strict gun control would not unpopular with most New Yorkers

    1. JBird4049

      Admittedly, I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but that is not what is making angry. It is the use of an issue, many issues really, to hurt the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, minorities to score political brownie points. Here, it just happens to be guns, but it could be many other things. Guns/abortion/drugs/education/climate/fillintheblank.

      That the “solutions” usually do not work, are often as, if not more, expensive, of what does work, and are never applied fairly is ignored. Choose one of society’s berserk buttons, offer a fake solution that usually makes things worse, but that is profitable for some and repeat.

      It is like the War on Terror. The forever war that has destroyed entire countries and that will only increase violence, but it makes money for Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex. Then there are the investment firms that buy, bankrupt, chop up, and dispose of companies and industries with the excuse that they are “investing.”

      The parasitical consumption of lives is connected with these new gun courts being another example. Instead of bombs, it is prisons that are being used to destructively make a profit in money and power. This unending and increasing destruction of life for profit is an abomination that does not look like it is going to end anytime soon. What is more aggravating is that it is obvious that we are being played.

  3. Felix_47

    The numbers in New York and mind numbingly large. Psychiatric care can solve it? In an environment with children having children, few male adult role models holding down a reasonable job, and minimal or no child support, consequent poverty and our popularization of gang culture what works? Liberal society is founded on giving people freedom to do what they want be it have children or many children, take drugs, have tattoos, work or don’t work etc. It is estimated one third of men of working age in the US are not listed as unemployed, and are not working. I would love to see what that proportion is in New York. The Chinese have an alternative mindset which is authoritarian. They enforce birth control in populations that they see as disruptive (Uyghuirs), they deal with drugs in a draconian manner, and they think nothing of putting masses of people in reeducation camps to force them to conform. Of course, the opium wars are not forgotten. And it has not escaped them that many great fortunes in the US were made bringing opium to the people of China in exchange for Chinese valuables. Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes to mind (the Delano part of the family). The Fentanyl epidemic is a curious symmetry. We can’t do much as a liberal society. One thing we could do is have a federal takeover of child support and have that support aimed at high risk communities like New York and make that support sufficient for a woman to have a middle class existence, with funded social security and health care. Not doing so really makes the federal government just like a dead beat dad. Allow unlimited children no matter what the situation and then not pay for it. We need to pay for a liberal society.

    1. tegnost

      few male adult role models holding down a reasonable job,

      Define what a”reasonable job” is in gig worker/amazon slave USA!USA!USA!

    1. Pat

      For a different reason I’m equally looking forward to his complete control of the city school system. Because there the most consistent thing from his few weeks in office are his former charter school director chancellor’s uplifting affirmation filled missives to the “troops”.

  4. David in Santa Cruz

    This sort of “window dressing” initiative to focus on more hearings for a certain class of crime usually comes at the expense of delaying everything else.

    In NYC thousands of criminal defendants languish in pretrial detention because their cases are squeezed off of overcrowded dockets, at the cost of family estrangement, job loss, and anger against the justice system — unraveling the social contract.

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