Due Process Rights Suspended In New York?

T.E. McMorrow

A man who had been living in a group home when he was arrested March 29 on a felony sex abuse charge has been in jail since then. Antoine Chappell, 24, would normally have been released after 120 hours when not indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury under criminal procedure law designed to protect the due process rights of those being held on felony charges.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting virtual shutdown of the courts, there are no grand juries currently active in New York. It is the position of the district attorney’s office that, due to the suspension by the state of all nonessential court procedures, that 180-80 law is not binding.

“That is considered part of the executive order,” said Sheila Kelly, spokesperson for District Attorney Tim Sini, on May 4, “that it is on hold.”

There are similar cases throughout the state. Thus far, with various district attorneys taking a similar view to Sini’s regarding the law, the courts have not stepped in.

A justice in Poughkeepsie, William Hayes, denied an application to have a defendant, Jason Hood, released because he was never indicted. Hood was unable to post the $50,000 bail set on March 30 on a felony weapons possession charge.

According to the written decision by Hayes, Thomas Angell, a Dutchess County public defender, argued that a “defendant who is in custody has a constitutional right to a prompt review and probable cause determination of the felony complaint that has been filed against him.”

In Hayes’ decision, he found the arraignment itself covered that constitutional requirement, and that, even if it did not, because “unprecedented times call for unprecedented action, the chief judge has limited statewide court operations to only those essential matters which so urgently require immediate attention.”

The question in Chappell’s case became moot on April 30, when, during a teleconference between his attorney from the Legal Aid Society, East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana, and the district attorney’s office, Chappell’s attorney agreed to waive his client’s right to be released. He is due back in court in East Hampton on June 11.

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