Constitutional Law

Stop-and-frisk project reaches 'appalling' conclusion: No right to misdemeanor trial in Bronx, NY


A special Bronx Defenders project—in which a Wall Street law firm was lined up to help those accused of misdemeanors after arrests resulting from questionable stop-and-frisk tactics by police—has reached a grim conclusion.

Contrary to what the U.S. Constitution and New York state law requires, there is effectively no right to trial or meaningful court review of low-level offenses, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports in a lengthy article.

“The normal rules about being ready and having your day in court just don’t apply,” said partner Lev L. Dassin of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, a former prosecutor who coordinated his firm’s work on the project. “It’s appalling.”

Judges have referred to the chronic court delays in the Bronx criminal courts as a crisis, according to the Times, with waits for felony cases lasting as long as five years.

Of the 54 misdemeanor defendants involved in the project, not one got a trial. Instead, a war of attrition often results in the accused taking pleas to avoid court appearance after court appearance after court appearance in which the case proceeds at a snail’s pace. But sometimes it’s the government that drops a case that has dragged on for too long.

When he appeared in court for the seventh time, that was the magic number for one of the participants, Michailon Rue, an Iraq war veteran. His case was dismissed and sealed because it had taken too long to prosecute. Meanwhile, Rue had lost his $17-an-hour job because of the pending marijuana charge.

The participant who got closest to trial was Francisco Zapata, who keeps a copy of the Constitution on his cellphone. After 523 days and 11 hearings, he saw his arresting officer took the stand as a witness in a pretrial hearing.

A common issue with those arrested is whether marijuana was seen in plain view beforehand, as state law requires, or obtained from a suspect’s pocket during a stop-and-frisk search. Zapata’s lawyer with the Bronx Defenders, Martha Kashickey, was midway through cross-examination about what exactly the officer had seen before Zapata’s arrest when the state dropped the case, the newspaper reports.

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