Dozens of NY judges have repeatedly sent people to prison for too long, report finds

A dozen judges in New York City and nearby counties have repeatedly imposed such long criminal sentences that higher courts later decided to slash them by a total of more than 1,200 years, according to a new data analysis shared with Gothamist.

Two judges in particular — a now retired Manhattan judge and another who is still on the bench in Brooklyn — imposed a combined 39 sentences that were later reduced by hundreds of years.

Judicial transparency organization Scrutinize and NYU’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law analyzed over 300 appellate decisions from 2007 through 2023 where appellate courts in New York’s First and Second Departments reduced trial judges’ sentences. Those appellate courts cover New York City and several surrounding counties, including Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk.

Researchers found that higher courts trimmed over 2,500 years off those hundreds of sentences. Under state law, appellate courts in New York can only shorten sentences, not lengthen them.

The report comes as New York judges face heightened scrutiny in the wake of bail reform and other recent changes to the state court system. Many criminal justice reform advocates want judges to minimize the number of people held in the city’s dangerous jails before they are convicted of a crime, while tough-on-crime conservatives frequently criticize judges for releasing people they say are dangerous. Even the NYPD has recently ramped up its criticism of members of the judiciary on social media.

State lawmakers are also considering a bill that would allow people facing sentences of a decade or more to ask a judge to shorten their prison stay.

The report asks the state court system to publish detailed sentencing data for state judges and annual reports on sentences that higher courts later rule are too long. Scrutinize’s Executive Director Oded Oren said he hopes the findings will help New Yorkers better understand sentencing practices and make informed decisions when they elect or appoint judges.

“Unlike other public servants, like the governor or our representatives in the Legislature, we have a lot less information about what choices and what outcomes these judges are driving,” he said. “Our point is to just try and bring as much information to the public as possible.”

The state Office of Court Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Although New York law allows higher courts to shorten “unduly harsh or severe” sentences imposed by lower court justices, such decisions are rare. Researchers identified 313 rulings in the First and Second Departments that reduced lengthy sentences between 2007 and 2023, out of thousands of felony convictions that defendants appealed during that time.

The report only analyzed decisions issued by the Appellate Division, New York’s mid-level appeals court. Oren said the higher-level state Court of Appeals generally lacks jurisdiction to reduce sentences or review Appellate Division decisions for excessiveness.

Now-retired Justice Edward McLaughlin, who presided over cases in Manhattan, imposed 20 of the later-reduced sentences, while Justice Vincent Del Giudice, who presides in Brooklyn Supreme Court, imposed 19 of them, according to the report.

McLaughlin could not immediately be reached for comment. Del Giudice did not respond to a request for comment.

Appellate courts ultimately cut nearly 685 years off those 39 sentences, according to the study. The report notes that the media has portrayed both men as strict judges who are known to impose long sentences. After McLaughlin’s retirement, the Daily News that he had presided over many serious cases, including gang takedowns. Del Giudice currently presides mostly over homicide cases, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

Scrutinize’s analysis found that 65 lower court judges handed down more than one sentence that appellate courts later ruled was too long. A dozen judges imposed five or more sentences that higher courts later shortened, resulting in an overall reduction of 1,246 years, according to the report.

Oren, a former public defender, said state court judges wield immense power over the outcomes of criminal cases they oversee but are rarely held to account for their rulings.

“With judges, there are so many decisions that are happening, and all of them are either oral or written in legal documents,” he said. “It’s really difficult to assess what is happening and what the decisions are.”

The report cites the case of one man who received a 35-year sentence — even longer than what prosecutors had recommended — after he was convicted of manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon in Nassau County in 2015. An appeals court knocked 10 years off his sentence two years later after ruling his original punishment was “excessive.”

In felony cases, New York judges are required to impose sentences that fall somewhere between the minimum and maximum outlined in state law. They’re also asked to weigh certain factors, including whether someone was previously convicted of another crime. Beyond those parameters, judges have discretion to decide how long someone’s prison stay should be.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *