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New York high court rules that criminal defendants facing threat of deportation are entitled to a jury trial, but many others are deprived of juries


What you’ll read today

  • New York high court rules that criminal defendants facing threat of deportation are entitled to a jury trial, but many others are deprived of juries

  • New Orleans DA stokes fears over bail fund

  • Incarcerated people sue federal government over proposed prison on polluted land

  • Little-known federal ‘three strikes’ law imposes life sentences for drug crimes

  • New Jersey group releases unprecedented database of police abuses

In the Spotlight

New York high court rules that criminal defendants facing threat of deportation are entitled to a jury trial, but many others are deprived of juries

On Tuesday, New York’s highest court ruled that certain noncitizen defendants facing misdemeanor charges normally only triable before a judge are entitled to jury trials. This is because the risk of deportation is a severe enough penalty that a defendant should have the option to be judged by a jury. The decision came in the 2012 case of Saylor Suazo who faced misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Before trial, Suazo argued that although the sentence was below New York City’s six-month threshold for a jury trial, the penalty of deportation, which he almost certainly faced if convicted, was severe enough to warrant a jury as required for “serious” offenses under the Sixth Amendment. The prosecution argued that the deportation was a collateral consequence of the conviction, not a penalty, and therefore he was not entitled to a jury trial. The judge agreed and Suazo was convicted. But New York’s Court of Appeals ruled in his favor: “There can be no serious dispute that, if deemed a penalty for Sixth Amendment purposes, deportation or removal is a penalty of the utmost severity” adding that deportation “is frequently more injurious to noncitizen defendants than six months or less of imprisonment.” [Beth Fertig / WNYC]

In his dissent, Judge Michael Garcia wrote that this ruling would open the door “to further litigation, in both state and federal courts, over exactly which collateral consequences may make an otherwise ‘petty’ offense ‘serious.’” Garcia noted that “the penalty for violation of United States immigration laws includes deportation, and deportation proceedings have never been deemed to entitle a noncitizen to anything more than an administrative hearing – certainly not a jury trial.” He added that under the majority’s ruling, “deportation proceedings themselves” should take place in federal courts, “with the full panoply of constitutional rights” they entail, not executive branch hearings. “Put differently, if the severity of deportation entitles one to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment, the entire federal system of removal of undocumented aliens is unconstitutional.” [People v. Suazo, dissent]

It is not a bad point, and one that many immigration advocates might agree with. In the U.S., the idea of being judged by a jury of your peers is thought to be sacred, but in reality, many people facing severe penalties do not receive a jury. This includes people in deportation proceedings and young people tried as juveniles in family court.  In the Bronx and elsewhere, as in Suazo’s case, prosecutors routinely drop charges just below the threshold of severity that would require a jury trial. The idea is that, particularly in overpoliced areas, jurors will be more likely to take seriously the very real possibility that a police officer would be less than truthful (see yesterday’s edition of the Daily Appeal, about the police cover-up that surrounded the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in Chicago). Judges, integral parts of the system and often former prosecutors themselves, are often less likely to doubt the credibility of officer testimony.

And even when people do receive a jury trial, they are often deprived of a jury of their peers. Prosecutors regularly seek to strike people of color from juries, leaving Black and brown defendants to be judged by all-white juries. The Batson rule, which outlaws race-based jury strikes, is famously toothless: As long as prosecutors can come up with an acceptable reason to strike a person, they can generally get away with keeping their juries relatively homogenous. And in death penalty cases, the process is especially skewed: the practice of death certification, by which people are only allowed to serve on death penalty juries after affirming that they do not oppose the death penalty, means that people accused of the most serious crimes are given juries that are, in some ways, cherry picked for their punitive beliefs (and are also whiter).

Some people, however, opt to forego juries, which, in many states, criminal defendants have a right to do. We see this most often in cases where law enforcement officers are charged with hurting or killing civilians. In nearly every high-profile case where a police officer is tried for killing a civilian and waives a jury––including in the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Melissa Williams and Timothy Russell in Cleveland, Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis, and Sean Bell and Deborah Danner in New York––judges have found the officers not guilty. When Judge Timothy Wilson, a former prosecutor, acquitted officer Jason Stockley of the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, he revealed his pro-law enforcement bias when he wrote in his ruling that, from his experience, “an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.” [Bennett Gershman / Law and Crime]

Although the U.S. deprives many criminal defendants and others of a fair jury trial, it stands almost alone in granting juries to civil litigants. But this practice, too, has been circumvented by powerful corporations, who prefer judges or arbitrators. These companies often force customers and employees to sign contracts agreeing to settle disputes outside the courts, through private arbitration. But after arbitration costs rose, many residential leases, checking-account agreements, auto loans, and mortgage contracts began including jury waivers, which let disputes go to court, but only if they are heard by a judge. Corporations believe juries are biased against them, but others say judges are biased toward companies. And critics add that jury waivers unfairly deny citizens access to the legal options guaranteed by the Constitution. [Jane Spencer / Wall Street Journal]

The Supreme Court did not do much to dispel the notion that judges are pro-corporation when it ruled in May that companies may require workers to settle employment disputes through individual arbitration rather than joining to press their complaints in class actions. “Employees may now be forced behind closed doors into an individual, costly — and often secret — arbitration process,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and chief executive of the National Women’s Law Center. “This will stack the deck in favor of the employer.” [Robert Barnes / Washington Post]

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Kameleon007/Getty Images

New Orleans DA Stokes Fears Over Bail Fund. Bail gives prosecutors leverage to get guilty pleas from people who can’t afford to buy their way out of jail, advocates noted. [Raven Rakia]

Stories From Around the Country

Incarcerated people sue federal government over proposed prison on polluted land: A $444 million plan to build a federal prison in a region of Appalachia ravaged by coal-mining operations drew a lawsuit Monday from 21 incarcerated people. The prison would house 1,216 people in a tiny hamlet in Kentucky that is now home to fewer than 100 people. But because a mountain peak was lopped off the land years earlier so it could be mined for coal in a process known as “mountaintop removal” or MTR, incarcerated people and staff would be exposed to serious health risks. The National Toxicology Program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science have both found measurable toxic risks associated with MTR in the water and air quality of surrounding areas. The complaint notes that several Department of Justice officials have testified before Congress “that it does not need to build [this prison] to address overcrowding issues” and that “the only sensible reason that seems to support the BOP’s decision is to satisfy … pork barrel politics.” [Jennifer Hijazi / Courthouse News]

Little-known federal ‘three strikes’ law imposes life sentences for drug crimes: In 2014, a judge had to sentence 26-year-old Tennessee resident Chris Young to life in federal prison for a drug offense under an obscure law, which says that after prosecutors file an 851 notice, sentences are enhanced based on prior drug crimes. The provision “was originally intended to give prosecutors leeway to avoid some of the harshest mandatory minimums,” writes C.J. Ciaramella, but “as the drug war expanded, the threat of an 851 filing became a prosecutorial bullying tactic used to dissuade defendants from exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial which also ties the hands of judges, taking away any discretion they have over sentencing, and has sent hundreds of drug offenders to prison for life.” There is a chance that Congress will change the law in the future, if those changes are not scuttled by conservative senators. One of the main champions of reform is Kevin Sharp, the judge who was forced to send Young, a peripheral figure in large drug ring, to prison for life. During the sentencing, Sharp recalls thinking, “Oh my God, what are we doing?” [C.J. Ciaramella / Reason]

New Jersey group releases unprecedented database of police abuses: A yearlong investigation by NJ Advance Media has found that New Jersey’s system for tracking police use of force is broken, leaving no state-sponsored data collection or analysis, little oversight, and no standard practices among local departments. “Two decades ago, officials envisioned a centralized database that would flag potentially dangerous cops for scrutiny. But that database was never created” until now, resulting in the Force Report. The report says it is “the most comprehensive statewide database of police force ever created and made public” in the U.S. The authors found, among other things, the following: Ten percent of officers accounted for 38 percent of all uses of force; between 2012 and 2016, at least 4,210 people were sent to the hospital; Black people were more than three times likelier to suffer from police uses of force than whites; and the state fails to flag officers who use disproportionately high amounts of force. [Stephen Stirling and S.P. Sullivan / NJ Advance Media]

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