Daily News: Police & Civilians: Two Justice Systems, Criminally Unequal
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2017

Tina Luongo and Cynthia Conti-Cook pen a joint oped in the New York Daily News on how our clients suffer far harsher treatment in the criminal justice system – in countless ways – than law enforcement accused of committing a crime.”




NY Daily News
Police & civilians: Two justice systems, criminally unequal
By Tina Luongo & Cynthia Conti-Cook
October 5, 2017

Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of changing the tale of two cities — a New York burgeoning with rampant economic inequality, where the rich flourish at the expense of the poor.

While there have been some sincere efforts to address that disparity, City Hall has paid little attention to a historic inequality in our criminal justice system. When ordinary New Yorkers are charged with crimes, they are subjected to far harsher treatment — in countless ways — than law enforcement personnel accused of offenses.

We are public defenders who represent people who can’t afford private legal representation. When our clients commit a crime, there is an immediate rush to judgment. A quick arrest, incarceration at Rikers Island or another jail, exorbitant bail and unrelenting pressure to take a plea deal.

Often NYPD or prosecutors release the individual’s entire criminal history to the media — effectively trampling the presumption of innocence guaranteed by our Constitution.

Prosecutors also like to throw the book at our clients by recommending excessive sentences, and they regularly fail to take into consideration the roles of the person’s mental illness or substance abuse addiction.

When there’s a conviction, prosecutors typically then follow up with a press release championing law and order. The person becomes a statistic for the district attorneys to tout as proof of their toughness on crime.

Now let’s look at how the process plays out for an accused police officer.

When members of the NYPD allegedly commit acts that break the law, violate department policies, erode trust with the public, and, in some instances, cost the life of another human being, there is no immediate arrest or rush to judgment. The prosecution often drags its feet about whether there’s enough evidence to indict. Bail is never a factor. The accused are never caged at Rikers. And the NYPD circles the wagons to fight all efforts to release any incriminating information that may exist.

The accused officer continues to collect a paycheck and is sent to a cushy desk assignment.

If they are ever actually prosecuted for using excessive force — or even for unjustifiably taking someone’s life — the punishment ultimately imposed frequently takes the form of probation or a loss of vacation days.

You don’t have to peruse history to find an example of these vastly different systems. Just last week, two officers were accused of raping an 18-year-old girl while she was in their custody. She reportedly remained handcuffed during the entire ordeal in the back of a Dodge van parked near a Chipotle restaurant.

Instead of an extortionate bail set and Rikers Island, the officers are on modified duty, performing menial tasks — and getting paid, free to walk the streets and free to see their families.

To compound this unfairness, the city’s ever-widening interpretation of a state law known as 50-a reached a new low recently when an NYPD administrative law judge — who is not an independent jurist but an employee on the NYPD payroll — temporarily kicked the public out of what is supposed to be a public trial involving the officer who assaulted tennis pro James Blake.

By contrast, down the street from 1 Police Plaza at Manhattan Criminal Court, our clients are prosecuted in full public view.

Police parade suspects before cameras in so called “perp walks,” stenographers record minutes of testimony later easily obtainable by the public, and reporters document every moment.

The Constitution affords the public that access because it fosters respect and trust in our judicial system.

The police should be held to the same standard.

New Yorkers will never buy into initiatives like community policing and similar efforts until they see wholesale change that brings real transparency and accountability for police officers who commit crimes.

We hope that one day City Hall will dedicate the same amount of attention and effort to ending the tale of two systems as it has committed to addressing other inequalities in our city.

Luongo is attorney in charge of the criminal defense practice and Conti-Cook is staff attorney in the criminal special litigation unit at the Legal Aid Society.



This article originally appeared in NY Daily News.