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Court Backup In Bronx Becoming A Civil Rights Issue

The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the integral components of our country's Bill of Rights. It reads, in pertinent part, that an accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury . . . And to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to confront the witnesses against him and to have an attorney represent his interests.

The trial lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy have long appreciated the value of the 6th Amendment and the rights that come along with it. Still, some courtrooms all across New York State are backed up and occasionally preventing people from having their day in court. In particular, the below New York Times article details the long and arduous journey involved in getting a criminal case to trial in Bronx County.

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Consequently, we ask "What good is a right if the opportunity to exercise it is so elusive?" The piece describes court delays in the Bronx as "so troublesome that state officials had to create special courts to clear a backlog." They add that the delays have largely undermined the right of an accused to a trial. This is depriving tens of thousands of people of an essential right guaranteed in this country, according to a recently filed Class Action suit. What do the delays mean for someone who was facing a criminal charge? Some unfortunate defendants spend the duration of their case sitting in jail because they are unable to make bail. Obviously this disproportionately impacts the poor who are facing criminal charges. Others have their cases drag on and incur substantial and often unnecessary legal fees. They are also forced to miss work and lose pay when making seemingly meaningless court appearances.

Criminal trials in the Bronx, according to this article, can take years to get underway. The article suggests that a defendant accused of a misdemeanor must wait 642 days before a bench trial is held and an astronomical 827 days before a jury trial is conducted in the Bronx. These statistics far exceed the numbers in the other boroughs. The impact that very few people are comfortable addressing is troubling. The delays lead to criminal defendants making practical compromises, pleading guilty to offenses that they did not commit just to get the case resolved. The class action lawsuit, mentioned above, was recently filed to address the unconscionable delays.

What is causing the court calendar to be so backed up? Experts attribute part of the problem to a shortage of judges, court officers and court stenographers. Others point to an antiquated court system that has failed to adjust with the times. Some wonder why defendants are required to appear at each court session. Others question why specific times for cases allowing for more time certainty is not a concept that is embraced. Cynics are equally vocal that court personnel is far too comfortable. Whatever the reason, something has to change.

Block O'Toole & Murphy is a law firm that is committed to fighting for the underdog. They have recovered nearly $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for their injured clients. You may learn more about the firm or receive a free consultation by calling 212.736.5300.