Bronx Mothers Gagged in a Tale of Two Courts

BRONX, N.Y. (CN) — Torn between two courts, two Bronx mothers charged with killing their children’s fathers enlisted high-profile help to lift a family judge’s gag orders standing in the way of their criminal defenses.

Yanny M.” and “Justine D.,” whose full names are shielded in court documents, share remarkably similar stories.

Prosecutors charged each woman in criminal court with second-degree murder for killing her child’s father while the child was at home.

In family court proceedings that were unfolding at the same time, the Administration for Children’s Services accused both of negligence, and the agency turned over progress notes that the mothers believe could be helpful in fending off their criminal cases.

Family court judges cited confidentiality statutes in forbidding the women from sharing these materials with their defense attorneys.

Taking up the women’s cause on Thursday, the New York Civil Liberties Union blasted these orders as unjust and unconstitutional.

“Full and open communication between a person accused of a crime and her criminal defense attorney is absolutely vital to the fair administration of justice, and it’s clearly protected by the First Amendment,” NYCLU staff attorney Bobby Hodgson said in a statement. “These orders unlawfully prevent defendants from talking with the only people on their side during some of the most critical moments of their cases, and their lives.”

In friend-of-the-court briefs, the NYCLU told New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, First Department that gag orders like these hit the poor hardest.

“The First Amendment violations described in this section fall most heavily on those defendants who cannot afford to hire a single attorney who could work concurrently on family and criminal cases, and thus have unrestricted access to all relevant records,” Hodgson wrote in two 14-page briefs.

The Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit representing the mothers, did not immediately respond to a telephone request for comment.

 

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