New York City courts will begin expediting felony gun cases starting next week — fulfilling a long-standing wish from the de Blasio Administration as it seeks to clamp down on shootings across the Five Boroughs.
More than 4,000 felony gun possession cases are currently pending in the city’s courts, according to the New York State Unified Court System. The backlog directly results from the various restrictions on court activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court system will address this through “a multi-prong initiative” in conjunction with local prosecutors, the Citizens Crime Commission and other stakeholders. The program aims to move more felony gun cases (top charge of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon) through the courts while also ensuring that all defendants receive due process of law.
The courts will begin empaneling more grand juries to consider indictments for gun felonies, assign judges in each borough to handle felony firearm cases and allow jurists to prioritize such cases on the court calendar.
Not only will this reduce the backlog of cases, but it will also allow judges to swiftly act on new gun arrests presented to the courts in the weeks to come, according to the Unified Court System.
“With the recent rise in gun cases in courts throughout the five boroughs, this citywide initiative will help ensure that these important cases are resolved as swiftly and effectively as possible,” said Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks.
For weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged the state court system to lift pandemic-related restrictions in order to process more firearm cases and help lock up the suspects responsible. He blamed the backlog for allowing more gun-toting criminals to walk the streets and commit shootings and other crimes.
“We’re not seeing the court system at full strength. We’re not seeing enough follow through on the other types of offenses and what criminal justice experts will tell you is, if there’s not consequences, it creates danger for communities,” de Blasio said at an Aug. 4 briefing. “So we want to see the court system at 100% full strength, dealing with all offenses, making sure there are consequences for everyone. That creates the culture of accountability we need.”
Shootings have been up across the city for the better part of a year during the pandemic, but the NYPD has made thousands of gun arrests in recent months. Last week, the NYPD reported a 44.5% increase in gun arrests during the first seven months of 2021 compared to the previous year.
July 2021 also marked the second-straight month in which shootings and murders decreased citywide.
Marks tapped Judge George Grasso, supervising judge at the Bronx County Criminal Court, to oversee day-to-day operations of the expediting program, and to “monitor and assess the case data to ensure the optimal use of court resources.”
amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office and the NYPD for comment, and is awaiting a response.
The expediting program will work as follows:
- The Court System will expand grand jury capacity and increase the number of grand juries empaneled, beginning in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
- Judges will be designated in each borough to handle newly-indicted felony gun possession cases, working as a team to expedite pretrial hearings and preside over plea hearings and trials.
- Administrative judges will ensure that gun felony trials are given priority status.
- Any gun possession cases previously indicated will be fast-tracked by the judge assigned to the case.
- All cases will be closely monitored to ensure that all cases are processed quickly and efficiently in accordance with due process.
- Additional resources will be added as required to keep the cases moving.