STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Citing the spike in shootings and gun arrests throughout the city, court officials on Tuesday announced a multi-pronged program designed to fast-track and resolve gun cases.
The initiative, which launches next week, will feature designated judges in each borough to handle newly-indicted felony gun-possession cases.
On Staten Island, Justice Lisa Grey will preside over the special part in state Supreme Court, St. George, said a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration.
Gun-possession cases which have already been indicted will also be fast-tracked and prioritized by the judge currently handling the case.
The program targets all new and pending gun cases in both state Supreme Court and Criminal Court in which the top charge is second-degree criminal weapon possession, a Class “C” felony, said officials
At present, there are over 4,000 felony gun cases pending in New York City courts, said officials.
There was no immediate breakdown for Staten Island.
The backlog is due mainly to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which severely hindered court operations beginning in March 2020, said officials.
According to the NYPD’s CompStat tracking, there have been 900 shooting incidents in the five boroughs this year as of Aug. 1
That number marks a 16% jump compared to last year’s total of 777 during the same time period.
However, on Staten Island, shootings during the first seven months of 2021 are actually down by three.
There have been 22 shooting incidents this year as of Aug. 1 compared to 25 last year, the CompStat statistics show.
EXPANDING GRAND JURY CAPACITY
Expanding grand jury capacity is another key element of the program.
That segment will start with increasing the number of grand juries in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, said officials.
As for Staten Island, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration (OCA), said current grand jury capacity here “is sufficient for the gun cases.”
“Should that change, we will adapt,” said Chalfen.
Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks said the new program is a collaboration among OCA, the district attorney’s office in each of the five boroughs and other stakeholders, including the Citizens Crime Commission. Defense lawyers were also consulted.
“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 a possible,” said Marks in a statement.
Judge George Grasso, supervising judge of Bronx Criminal Court, will oversee the program’s day-to-day operations, Marks said.
Officials said the program will be closely monitored and analyzed.
Adjustments will be made, if necessary, to increase its efficiency.
Veteran criminal defense lawyer Mark J. Fonte said he looks forward to working with Grey.
“Judge Grey is an outstanding choice for this new court part,” said Fonte. “She continues a long tradition of outstanding Criminal Term justices. I’m sure this transition will be seamless.”
‘CRUCIAL’ FOR S.I.
District Attorney Michael E. McMahon said the initiative is “crucial” for Staten Island.
The program will focus court resources on “resolutely and expeditiously” holding felony gun offenders more accountable and “keeping deadly firearms off our streets,” said the D.A.
“As gun violence continues to claim the lives of too many New Yorkers, it is imperative that we use every tool at our disposal to help make our communities safer for all,” said McMahon. ” … My office will continue working with the NYPD, as well our many community partners, to end the gun violence still plaguing our neighborhoods.”
“Let the message be clear: If you pick up an illegal gun, and even worse, pull the trigger, I will seek to have you held on bail and then prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and now, with this dedicated court, convicted and sentenced as swiftly as possible,” the D.A. said.