Bronx Defenders Demands Jury Trials in Cases with Deportation Risk, Reported by WNYC News

Posted on December 3, 2018

New York’s Highest Court Rules Immigrants Deserve Jury Trials, Even for Misdemeanors

Originally Published in WNYC News on November 27, 2018
Written by Beth Fertig

New York State’s highest court has ruled that immigrants are entitled to a jury trial, even when they’re accused of misdemeanor crimes that carry sentences of six months or less. The case was brought by the Center for Appellate Litigation in New York. The Bronx Defenders filed a friend of the court brief; it represented the defendant in his original case, and in his immigration proceedings.

“Jury trials are fairer,” said Ilona Coleman, legal director of the criminal law practice for Bronx Defenders. “You’re looking at six members of the community that are deciding your fate as opposed to one judge who may not have similar life experiences that you have.” In the New York case, Saylor Suazo was accused of grabbing the mother of his children, throwing her to the floor and squeezing her neck with his hands. The Bronx District Attorney reduced the charges to B misdemeanors that carried a maximum penalty of three months in prison. But that sentence isn’t considered severe enough in New York City to require a jury trial, even though people charged with B misdemeanors outside the city do get jury trials.

Suazo wanted to face a jury of his peers, arguing that the penalty is serious enough to require a jury trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. His bid for a jury trial was denied until New York State’s Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The court ruled, “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.” Judge Leslie Stein wrote for the majority: “There can be little doubt that deportation is a sufficiently severe penalty to puncture the six-month demarcation between serious and petty offenses.”

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