By Eva-Maria Ghelardi
On October 5, 2020, the St. John’s Chapter of the Historical Society of the New York Courts hosted “The Criminal Edge: New York Courts and 21st Century Justice,” the first panel of its kind showcasing the note research of Amelia Bayroff, Melissa Capalbo, Matt Cleaver, Michael Dauber, and Alex Karambelas. Each presentation focused on an evolving part of the New York criminal system. A recording is available on the Web Links page of the Historical Society’s TWEN page.
Melissa Capalbo discussed New York’s Raise the Age Legislation. In failing to define the phrase “extraordinary circumstances,” the legislature left a loophole for courts to determine which cases should remain in the youth part of the criminal justice system when “extraordinary circumstances” exist and which cases should be transferred to family court. With little guidance, courts have examined factors such as prior juvenile history (in violation of the Family Court Act) as well as culpability (at odds with the presumption of innocence). Moreover, some courts have used mental illness as a way to mitigate a finding of extraordinary circumstances entirely, perhaps believing the juvenile justice system is more equipped to handle mental illness.
Matt Cleaver examined how individuals convicted of sex offenses are often locked out of public housing by statute, out of much of the private housing market, out of homeless shelters, and even out of nursing homes. Unlike prison sentences and probation, a criminal defendant may plead guilty in total ignorance of these severe housing consequences. In a justice system that relies upon and constitutionally requires “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary” guilty pleas, Matt Cleaver argued that defense counsel and judges must advise defendants of these housing consequences before defendants plead guilty.
Michael Dauber analyzed the rationale behind the extreme emotional disturbance/adequate provocation affirmative defense to murder. He argued that the same defense should be applied to intentional assault cases, since the degree of decreased culpability is the same in both types of cases, and failing to recognize the defense could potentially confuse jurors who consider attempted murder and assault charges in the same case. Moreover, a study of the defense in New York County homicide cases showed that the defense rarely succeeds where a defendant is simply angry, removing worries that expanding the defense to assault cases would produce negative consequences, such as frequent use in domestic violence cases.
Alex Karambelas considered the sweeping and controversial 2019 reforms to the New York criminal discovery statute, which had remained largely unchanged since 1979. Alex examined the problems which arise in a plea-based criminal justice system when discovery rules are tied to trial. She argued that internal prosecutorial discovery policies, Brady, and local court rules are all inadequate solutions and that the problem of discovery in a plea-based criminal justice system must instead be solved via legislative reform.
Amelia Bayroff spoke about the history of assisted suicide criminalization and the increasing difficulties of defining, identifying, and prosecuting suicide assistance in a world dominated by electronic communications. She argued that New York should follow the lead of other states and be proactive in modifying suicide assistance statutes to better address internet-based and electronic suicide assistance.
The event wrapped up with a Q&A in which audience members asked questions about the note writing process and updates about the various developments since the notes were submitted. The Historical Society and its co-host, the Criminal Law Society, were proud to showcase the hard work of our classmates and to learn about criminal law developments from individuals passionate about the subject.