A decision handed down this week by a New York City judge has created a precedent which basically allows the police to play the role of both cop and prosecutor.
In a case heard in Manhattan Criminal Court, Judge Guy Mitchell rejected a challenge in the case of Arminta Jeffryes and Cristina Winsor, two women who were arrested and charged with misdimeanors while taking part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the city.
Jeffryes was charged with jaywalking and elsewhere, Winsor was charged with disorderly conduct and standing in the street.
They had an appearance at the court for the summons portion of their cases in May but the Manhattan District Attorney’s office issued a “Memorandum of Understanding” three months prior, allowing them to delegate the handling of summonses. The case was assigned to the NYPD Legal Bureau, which sent a lawyer to their hearing to act as prosecutor.
But lawyers for Jeffryes and Windsor objected saying that having that particular lawyer act in such a role represented a conflict of interests and moved for Mitchell to dismiss the NYPD from its prosecutorial role. They said the D.A. had no legal right to hand off their cases to other agencies.
In his decision Monday, Mitchell struck down their motion saying that the office was within their legal right to do so.
“District attorneys are legally permitted to delegate the prosecution of petty crimes or offenses so long as the district attorney is also informed of all criminal prosecutions in the county,” Mitchell wrote in his decision in Jeffryes case, according to the New York Daily News.
Jeffryes attorney, Martin Stolar says he will file a lawsuit accusing the Manhattan D.A.’s office with an abuse of authority
Both Jeffryes and Winsor were offered deals to dismiss their cases — provided they admit guilt, which angered Stolar, who said that the D.A.’s office is overstepping its bounds by trying to make such an arrangement.
Winsor’s attorney Gideon Oliver said that Mitchell’s decision was an attack on people who try to peaceably assemble in New York.
“These unfortunate decisions are likely to embolden the NYPD in its selective and often violent enforcement of jaywalking and other similar charges against Black Lives Matter protesters, and in seeking to prosecute the cases of perceived protesters,” he told the Daily News.
But the D.A.’s office, citing the large number of summons cases it has to deal with, says this method is better for both plaintiff and defendant.
“The cases may not be presented thoroughly to the Court, and injustice may result,” he added. “It’s far better to have a responsible public office — the NYPD — stand up on these cases, than to have no one at all,” said Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Rosenberg in a court filing.
Jeffryes and Winsor are scheduled for another court appearance in November.