Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown today joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other criminal justice system dignitaries to announce an expansion of the Gun Court program to Queens and the Bronx and additional precincts in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bloomberg said, “People who carry illegal guns are a menace to the public, and it is important that we send these criminals a clear message that they will be met with swift and certain justice. The law says that you cannot carry a concealed weapon in New York City and we are going to enforce the law.

District Attorney Brown said, “When criminals are afraid to carry guns, the level of violence drops significantly. But unless those arrested are vigorously prosecuted -- and receive tough sentences where warranted -- the law is meaningless. Placing all gun cases together in a single courtroom before a single judge will give us greater consistency in the application of our existing gun laws, better monitoring of gun case dispositions and improved public safety through the imposition of the tough sentences that the Legislature intended. The end result will be a safer New York City.”

Queens County’s new Gun Court convenes next month. Criminal Court Judge Michael D. Aloise has been designated to preside. The Gun Court is the latest component in Operation Spotlight, a comprehensive public safety initiative that was launched in October 2002 to address chronic misdemeanants including shoplifters, criminal trespassers, graffiti vandals and illegal drug users.

Mayor Bloomberg said that the Gun Court program has now been expanded to 35 New York City Police Department police precincts -- including the 16 police precincts in Queens County -- almost half the City’s 76 police precincts.

Also attending the City Hall announcement earlier today were New York State Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson and Chief Assistant District Attorney Amy Feinstein of Kings County representing District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.

In the Queens County Gun Court, Judge Aloise will preside over all qualifying cases from beginning to end, make all legal ruling, conduct all hearings and trials and impose sentences on all convicted offenders.

District Attorney Brown, who played a key role in the drafting and enactment of New York State’s original gun law, noted that the referral to the Gun Court of every indicted felony gun possession case promises to end in dispositions more in line with the original intent of the statute which imposes a penalty of at least one year in jail.

Under current New York State law, the crime of felony gun possession carries a mandatory one-year minimum jail sentence but a judge has discretion to impose a lesser sentence in certain limited circumstances.

District Attorney Brown said, “We have on the books here in New York what purports to be the toughest gun law in the country. It provides for a mandatory one-year jail sentence for the illegal possession of a gun on the streets. It provides, also, however, that if the court finds that a jail sentence would, under the facts of case, be unduly harsh, it can circumvent the mandatory one-year jail sentence and provide for a non-incarcerative sentence. Unfortunately, through the years, the exception has become the rule and too few individuals have been going to jail under the law.

The District Attorney continued, “As a result of today’s initiative, that will change. By placing all gun cases together in a single courtroom in front of a single judge, we will see greater consistency in the application of the law. We will be able to more closely monitor the sentences imposed in gun cases. The exception will no longer be the rule. And those who illegally possess guns will receive the tough sentences that the Legislature intended.”

Preliminary results in Brooklyn’s Gun Court show a dramatic reversal -- a 99 percent conviction rate and jail or prison sentences of from 90 days to a year imposed in 98 percent of the felony gun case convictions and sentences of probation virtually eliminated.

District Attorney Brown also said that prosecutors from his Office will play a key role in the police training component of the Gun Court program in Queens County. The training is designed to strengthen cases that result from gun arrests. Police officers will undergo intensive instruction in how to recognize when an individual is carrying a gun, how to safely apprehend and disarm such individuals and how to clearly articulate the facts that provide the legal basis for search and seizures in court testimony.