Sunday, February 19, 2006

Nassau County (NY) New Democrat DA Already Is Wasting Taxpayers Money

I voted and supported the new Democrat District Attorney, because I expected that, with her time in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, she would be capable of streamlining the criminal justice system in Nassau County (NY). I hoped that she would understand that serious criminal cases needed more effort, and that she would push drug and dwi cases into the mandatory therapy necessary to reduce recidivism in those areas. Sadly she fooled me. I was mistaken. She has instead taken the tact of trying to be a hardball DA who is more interested in stats and numbers than effective criminal justice.

In the above cited Newsday story, DA Rice has insisted that she will not plea bargain even the simplest of cases, unless she gets to name the penalty, and there is always a penalty. I firmly believe this is an abuse of her province as a prosecutor. In addition it is a waste of money, TAXPAYERS MONEY! Allow me to elucidate.

On Wednesday I sat in court, and heard the most preposterous plea offer I have ever heard an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) make. The Defendant there was charged with a DWI and an Illegal Left Turn (a traffic violation with a maximum fine of 250 Dollars). Under normal circumstances, the Left turn is dismissed and the DWI is either taken to the charge, or reduced to plea to a Driving While Impaired. For a first offender with a low breath alcohol level, the defendant is placed on probation with DWI conditions.

In the case on Wednesday, the offer was probation and 50 hours of community service. Now if the Defendant lost at trial he still would get a sentence of Probation without the community service. There is no incentive to enter a plea bargain at all. Now some may think this is effective. I find it to be a waste of MY Money! The crime I wish to see corrected is the DWI. Now in order to do this, the DA must try the case, costing us a mininum of One Hundred Thousand ($100,000)Dollars in man hours and wasted effort! Moreover, the Defendant's attorney is a talented lawyer with a lot of trial time under his belt. Hence they may not even get a conviction. More wasted money.

If the DA really felt that the defendant should serve 50 hours, then she could have knocked the DWI down to an Ability Impaired, taken the violation anyway and had a good chance of getting the plea. This offer only wastes time. Even assuming that the defendant is convicted of both charges, if he gets probation and the $250 dollar fine, he saves a minimum of $500 dollars in wasted community service time assuming his time is only worth $10 dollars an hour. I thought this might be an anomaly, a young assistant who doesn't understand the new system. I was wrong again.

On Thursday, I went to County Court on a Felony Grand Larceny with an Illegal right Turn ticket. My client, who had fallen on very hard times, agreed to take a plea to the charge, if he received probation. That seemed to be a resonable request given his lack of a criminal record,the circumstances surrounding his case, not to mention his own cooperation in the case. Nope, the DA wants thirty days. The judge was appropriately incredulous, and offered the probation. I am secure that if the case were tried and we lost, the sentence would still be no worse than probation. The ADA said if I wanted the Illegal Turn dropped, my client would have to do (30)thirty days!! How stupid can they be? Why plead guilty to the whole indictment if I am going to do no worse than probation and might do better? I would have to be a dump truck lawyer to advise my client to plead guilty to this indictment and my client would have to be crazy to accept such a situation especially since the trial will not cost him a penny (If he is denied an application to proceed in forma pauperis, I will try it for free rather than deny him his day in court.)

A trial in this case will last about two weeks. They will have to bring in cops for hearings and trial and will have to pay for transcripts. We will need to do a jury selection wasting the time of 80 or more potential jurors. 14-15 of those poor souls will then sit for a week or more (probably more)listening to this case. We will need courtroom time. We will absorb judicial and court clerk costs. Bailiffs and court officers will have to be paid. Police officers will need to work overtime or be taken off the street. This case will cost the system well over a Quarter of a Million Dollars to try. Other cases, especially incarcerated defendants will have to wait for their trials at taxpayers costs. The ADA trying the case for the People of the State of New York (us taxpayers) will have to take time from cases where the defendant did not offer to plead guilty, cases far more important than a Illegal Turn case, or worse his cases may have to be reassigned. If it happens often enough,(and it appears it will) we will need more ADAs meaning higher costs for DA Rice's bigger budget. (Which I suspect is her motive anyway.)Worse yet, if I lose and the client gets the sentence of probation he is sure to earn, he can still appeal at the government's expense!! A backlog of cases will in turn cause the jail to become overcrowded again and that will result in a Federal District court ordering people who ought to be in jail (unlike my client) be released. We will be forced to expand the jail we presently have. That is not the justice I expected to import from NYC.

Prolonging litigation for the sake of her policy (or worse to increase her budget) is venal, wasteful and seems to be a violation of the ethics rules that a lawyer will not unnecessarily prolong litigation. Moreover her tactics will unfairly effect middle class defendants as the rich can afford it and the poor get their lawyers for free. As Nassau's tax base is mostly middle class, they are screwed a second time.

I believe that being tough on violent crime and big time fraud is important. Cracking down on Traffic violations is ridiculous. I have no idea if the DA is just confused as to her "mandate", or if there are ulterior motives, but either way we better meet this challenge or our criminal justice system threatens to get as bogged down as NYC's and then people who should not be on the streets, will be. Costing us more money, causing us to have to build bigger jails, and making Nassau a more dangerous place to live is not why I voted for DA Rice. This better straighten out quickly, because voters will not be fooled again.
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