Trowbridge v. Cuomo
Trowbridge v. Cuomo was filed on May 10, 2016, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of thousands of New Yorkers who are affected by systematic and endemic delays in the processing of misdemeanor cases in the Bronx. The suit argues that the administrators of New York State’s Unified Court System have failed to provide the constitutionally guaranteed rights to a speedy trial and due process to people charged with misdemeanors in the Bronx.
New York’s speedy trial statute requires prosecutors to be ready for trial within 90 days of arraignment for Class A misdemeanors, 60 days for Class B misdemeanors, and 30 days for non-criminal violations. In the Bronx, however, these guidelines are meaningless: As of January 2016, there were 2,378 misdemeanor cases in the Bronx pending for over 365 days and 538 cases pending for over two years. The few Bronx residents who do manage to exercise their right to trial wait on average 688 days for a non-jury trial and an astonishing 897 days for a jury trial. In 2015, a year that saw over 45,000 misdemeanor arraignments, there were only 98 misdemeanor trials in the Bronx.
Citywide, the disparity in court delays is striking: the Bronx had more misdemeanor cases pending in excess of one year than the four other boroughs of New York City combined.
As of the beginning of 2016, the average wait for a jury trial in the Bronx (827 days) was 99% higher than in Manhattan (414 days), 66% higher than in Brooklyn (496 days), and 48% higher than in Queens (558 days).
Marked by perennially closed courtrooms, unfair allocation of judicial resources compared to wealthier boroughs, pointless interim court appearances and overall dysfunctional administration, the interminable delays lead to lost paychecks, school absences, missed medical appointments and childcare emergencies, among other “hidden taxes” on Bronx communities. As a result, many people end up taking plea bargains and giving up their right to a trial.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the court system as it currently operates deprives people charged with misdemeanors in the Bronx of their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law, and asks the Court to provide appropriate relief, which could include systemic reforms as well as additional resources.
In December 2016, the Court rejected the defendants’ arguments the plaintiffs had failed to put forward valid claims and that federal courts were required to abstain from deciding the issues in the lawsuit, but granted a motion to dismiss on grounds that the original plaintiffs lacked standing, inviting the filing of an Amended Complaint with new plaintiffs. An Amended Complaint including three additional plaintiffs was filed in January 2017 and accepted by the Court on March 8, 2017. On May 18, 2017, the parties agreed to a six-month stay of the litigation in order to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations.
In addition to The Bronx Defenders, Plaintiffs are also represented by Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP and Morrison & Foerster, LLP.
To learn more about court delays in the Bronx, see our factsheet.