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Abuse of Power: The NYPD Seeks to Prosecute Summons Cases

Ann Schneider Jun 16

In February of this year a very unusual arrangement was made by the NYPD to have the authority to prosecute criminal cases themselves in Manhattan.  The police cite a brief Memorandum of Understanding signed February 19th, 2016 between the District Attorney of New York General Counsel and the NYPD Commissioner of Legal Matters.  It asserts that it has the right to delegate to the NYPD the authority “to prosecute any and all violations in Summons Part.”  In the past people given tickets for violations such as an open container would see a Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO) who would hear them and decide their fate without any lawyers present.  Indigent defendants could speak to a public defender stationed in Summons Part, but the Manhattan District Attorney, wanting to conserve resources, would not be present.   Most of these violations were dismissed, or at worst, would result in a fine.  But apparently the NYPD didn't want to take the chance of that happening in cases involving political protesters.  Representing Black Lives Matter defendants, National Lawyers Guild lawyers, volunteered to appear in the Summons Part to protect their clients.  This the City could not abide. 

So in January, the NYPD started showing up in Summons Part and refusing to offer an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal after six months of no further arrests) unconditionally.  Instead, they demanded that a Defendant acknowledge that the Summons was “lawfully issued,” in return for getting an ACD.  The obvious aim of the demand was to prevent a future civil rights lawsuit for wrongful arrest.  Such a practice has been swiftly struck down in the past  by Judges as being an unethical conflict of interest.

Round Two then began the next month with this purported delegation of authority to the police to act as prosecutors in the Summons Part.  Attorneys Martin Stolar, Elena Cohen, Gideon Oliver and Jonathan Wallace, all members of the NYC Chapter of the Guild, have filed constitutional challenges to the memo permitting the NYPD to act as prosecutor.  There is a very important legal principle at stake. Prosecutors are public employees whose duty is to ensure that Justice is done, not to win convictions at any price.  So far, we have only seen the NYPD show up in the cases of protestors like Armi Jeffryes, an organizer of BLM actions.  She was issued a ticket for jaywalking on March 7th, handcuffed and taken into custody!

Ms. Jeffryes refused to consider surrendering her rights in exchange for an ACD and on June 14th, filed a motion for dismissal of the charges against her.  Citing reams of legal precedent, her lawyers argue it is unconstitutional, illegal, and unethical to allow the police to serve as prosecutors.  The City and the NYPD now have until July 19th to respond to the motion.  Apparently, they find it too hard to abstain from illegally arresting vocal youth and would rather deform the constitution than respect it.

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