January 16, 2015

Charles Hynes: the Gift that Keeps Giving

Former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, who left behind a tarnished legacy, to put it kindly, is about to come under renewed scrutiny. No, I'm not talking about possible criminal charges for stealing misusing forfeited drug monies to benefit his electoral campaign; that's something else. Rather, yet another case has surfaced where Hynes's office may have prosecuted an innocent man, withheld exculpatory evidence, and knowingly proceeded with a criminal case founded on police misconduct. Yes, defendants, even in civil cases, usually deserve the benefit of the doubt. But at some point there is too much weight from too many separate allegations from unrelated people, and that presumption comes crashing down. Just ask Bill Cosby.

The short version is that Clarence Bailey was convicted by a Brooklyn jury of attempted murder following a one-witness identification trial, and sentenced to 20 years. He spent a total of five years in jail before his conviction was vacated by a state appellate court on the basis that it was against the weight of the evidence. More simply, the appellate court found that the witness was plainly unreliable and that there was not enough evidence of guilt to sustain the conviction. Witnesses had testified following the jury's verdict, and again during the now-pending civil case, that NYPD detectives had threatened and forced them to inculpate Bailey.

Bailey is now suing the three detectives and the City of New York. One of the causes of action, known generally as a Monell claim, is that the City (read: Charles Hynes) had a practice of withholding evidence and ignoring police misconduct. The other claims were directly against the detectives for fabricating evidence and causing Bailey to be maliciously prosecuted.

In a decision published yesterday, and which follows below, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment and scheduled a trial for April 20, 2015. I will not bore you with a summary of the decision, to which Judge Weinstein helpfully appends a table of contents and plenty of sub-headers. It is enough to say that the trial ought to prove enlightening and entertaining. That is, if the City does not now choose to open the vault to Mr. Bailey. We shall see.

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