I’m quoted today in a lengthy Village Voice article about Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, written by Graham Rayman, who does excellent reporting about policing and corrections issues. http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-01-02/news/Charles-Hynes-brooklyn/
Just a few words about the article and my quote. First, as Rayman’s article somewhat acknowledges, there are many things about Hynes’ office that are terrific. He prioritizes prosecuting gun and violent crime over drugs and “victimless” crimes. He has a liberal discovery policy that encourages early dispositions and compensates for our New York’s absurdly limited criminal discovery statutes. As a criminal defense attorney living and practicing in Brooklyn, I have tremendous appreciation for these policies.
But I stand completely by my quote in the article- Once they bring a case, Hynes’ office will virtually never dismiss the case of their own accord, no matter how compelling the evidence of innocence. They’ll never exercise discretion, for fear of their supervisor, and their supervisor’s supervisor, and the next New York Post headline. How many Brooklyn assistant district attorneys does it take to screw in a light bulb? I don’t know- let me ask my supervisor.
As a result, even the worst bullshit cases take a year and a half for the best criminal lawyer to drive into the ground. But the prosecutors fail to realize or acknowledge that that year and a half takes a tremendous toll on the innocent defendant. Jobs are put on hold, orders of protection tear families apart, travel is limited, and anxiety runs at an all-time high. All this may be the natural result of any prosecution, but when the DA shortchanges his duty to seek justice, out of concern for stats or headlines, he causes needless suffering in the community he is elected to serve.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Brooklyn DA’s consistent refusal to voluntarily dismiss so called “Domestic Violence” cases. I’ll be discussing “domestic violence” cases in many posts to come. But the overall picture is this- in Brooklyn, there are two misdemeanor courtrooms that each handle about 70-100 “domestic violence” cases a day, which are each adjourned about a month at a time. A few are quite serious. A tremendous number of them are complete nonsense. But the DA will never dismiss any of these domestic violence cases, opting instead to let them die a slow and painful death on statutory speedy trial grounds (“30.30”). Meanwhile, court orders of protection will keep the defendant away from the alleged complainants or their children, very often against their very express wishes. This explicit abdication of the exercise of discretion in the domestic violence context benefits no one, it tears families apart, it is condescending and paternalistic to the alleged complainants, and it is time for it to change.