Court Defeat Leads DA to Change Tune on Jury-Trial Limits

BRONX, N.Y. (CN) – Just a week after New York’s highest court found that the risk of deportation entitles noncitizens to jury trials on misdemeanor charges, the Bronx district attorney changed her tune Tuesday about seeking the U.S. Supreme Court’s review.

Rather than fight for a reversal of the Nov. 27 ruling, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said in a statement the New York Legislature should bring state law into compliance.

“After serious consideration of the court’s opinion, I have decided not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case,” Darcel said. “Instead, I believe a legislative solution is the best path forward for the Bronx and New York City.”

At the heart of the problem, Clark noted, are outdated laws in New York City. While defendants charged with misdemeanors are entitled to jury trials in New York state, the city passed an ordinance in the 1970s allowing bench trials for misdemeanors carrying less than six months incarceration.

The move to exempt Class-B misdemeanors from jury trials was one that aimed to reduce courtroom crowding, but Darcel noted that “misdemeanor cases have decreased some 40 percent in the last five years.”

Citing the risks of deportation for some defendants, Darcel called it “time for the legislature to provide jury trials for all New York City residents.”

The New York Court of Appeals found the city’s treatment of noncitizen misdemeanants unfair last week while ruling on the case of Saylor Suazo.

Convicted in 2012 of assaulting the mother of his children, Suazo claimed that the state’s refusal to give him a jury trial violated his rights since the charges would still be enough to trigger deportation proceedings.

Though an intermediate appeals concluded that deportation is a collateral consequence of conviction, the New York Court of Appeals noted in its 5-2 reversal that deportation is sometimes worse than prison.

“Detention — which closely resembles criminal incarceration — may last several days, or it may last months or years,” Judge Lesline Stein wrote for the majority.

“A noncitizen who is adjudicated deportable may first face additional detention, followed by the often-greater toll of separation from friends, family, home, and livelihood by actual forced removal from the country and return to a land to which that person may have no significant ties,” the 22-page opinion continues

Clark, the Bronx DA, expressed concern meanwhile about what the ruling means for noncitizen defendants in terms of burden of proof. “

The risk of deportation is a harsh reality for many Bronx residents,” Clark said in the statement, adding that “the criminal courts of New York State are not in the best position to forecast the outcome of a deportation case.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees jury trials in criminal cases involving serious offenses. New York is one of a handful of states that does not provide a right to jury trial in all criminal cases.

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