The vote by the New York City Council to approve a plan to close Rikers Island by building four local jails in the boroughs close to the courts and the communities from which detainees come is as welcome as it is long overdue. Over four decades ago I was the head of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the NYC Legal Aid Society. We were a small office charged with the task of using our legal skills to address appalling conditions of confinement in New York City Jails and to attempt to bring the rule of law to the operation of our penal institutions. The constitution of our country guarantees that people held in penal facilities are entitled to be held in conditions that do not threaten their safety and that do not destroy their lives. Sadly, that was not the case in New York then and hasn’t been for many years since.
In our work, we saw Rikers Island up close and personal. We saw a remote place where horrible things happened to people who are held there as well as people who work there. Rikers is poorly designed, expensive to operate, distant from courts, attorneys, families, and communities to which the overwhelming number of people who are held there will inevitably return. There is a culture on that island of brutality, meanness, and violence.
Rikers harms not only the people who go there; it harms the millions who don’t. It does nothing to uplift anyone or to make us safer. What we saw is a stain on a great city. So Rikers must be closed. But accomplishing that as is often the case when one is trying to do the right thing is not easy. But it is worth the effort. That is why the vote by the New York City Council to close this horrible place is so welcome. When the day comes that Rikers is finally shuttered, New York City will be a better city; it will be a safer city;it will be an American city that we can take pride in.
On Saturday, February 10, 2018, the Pace Law Advocacy Program held its first-annual 1L Opening Statement Competition. The walk-on competition afforded 1Ls the opportunity to experience a mock courtroom with a mock jury. In the preliminary rounds, the students delivered openings for both sides of a homicide case with an identity issue. The fact pattern was from a previous Queens District Attorney’s Office Mock Trial competition, and was used with permission of that office. The jurors and evaluators were all Pace alumni and current criminal defense attorneys, assistant district attorneys, and civil litigators. Each of the top four students won a Kaplan bar review gift card. The top four students, in order of placement, were Scott Trivella, Erin Donovan, Vanessa Neal, and Nisha Desai.
Pace Law’s Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice and former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah recently spoke with Brian Williams on “the 11th Hour” about the possible interview of President Trump by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and how prosecutors plan for such an interview. Check it out here!
Pace Law’s Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice Mimi Rocah recently appeared on the “Law & Crime” network to discuss the government’s use of a cooperating witness with host Caroline Polisi. Ms. Rocah explained the process of using a cooperating witness in a federal prosecution. Although a cooperator must first plead guilty to the highest possible crime (and possibly other unrelated crimes), the incentive to cooperate in a federal investigation is significant. If the government finds that the cooperator has information against more culpable parties and they testify truthfully, the government will ask the judge to sentence the cooperator below the mandatory minimum under the sentencing guidelines. See the interview here.
WRITTEN BY: Mimi Rocah, a former Federal Prosecutor and Pace Law Distinguished Criminal Justice Fellow
It was great to see such an amazing turnout at the November 6 talk with former ATF Mike Burke about guns and gun violence. Please keep reading and talking about the issues. Here are some good follow-up reads:
- Gliffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Categories of Prohibited People, (last visited Nov. 16, 2017) (A summary of prohibited persons and categories under federal law).
- NPR Morning Edition, In Texas and Beyond, Mass Shootings Have Roots in Domestic Violence (Nov. 7, 2017) (An article about the correlation between domestic violence and mass shootings).
- Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen & Deanna Pan, US Mass Shootings, 1982-2017: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation, Mother Jones (last updated Nov. 15, 2017) (Mother Jones’ take on gun violence statistics that was referenced in the Nov. 6, 2017 talk at Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University).
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Domestic Abusers Are Barred from Gun Ownership, but Often Escape the Law, New York Times (Nov. 6, 2017) (An explanation of why the Texas shooter’s Domestic Violence conviction should have barred him from obtaining a weapon).