New York creates 'gun courts' in hopes of reducing gun violence

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 12:22 PM

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) - Officials will announce a sweeping effort to combat gun violence in New York on Tuesday by convening a new court in Brooklyn dedicated to handle gun possession cases while also creating a police unit to focus exclusively on gun cases.

People charged with illegally possessing firearms in Brooklyn, which has the highest rate of such cases among the city's five boroughs, would be processed through one of the two courts, the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The courts would be overseen by two state judges with a support staff to include retired judges who help oversee pretrial hearings, part of an effort to streamline the adjudication of such cases. The goal was to resolve the majority of those cases within six months of arrest.

The police department's new Gun Violence Suppression Division would handle gun-related investigations in the city of about 8.5 million, the largest in the United States.

New York State has some of the country's toughest gun laws, but law enforcement officials have struggled to stem the so-called "Iron Pipeline," in which illegal firearms flow in from Southern states with looser restrictions.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions aimed at reducing what he called an epidemic of gun violence nationwide.

The new gun courts are the second time the city has tried to dedicate a particular courtroom to gun cases. In 2003, the court system launched a gun court in Brooklyn with a dedicated judge.

While the court had initial successes, it eventually became overloaded with a backlog of cases, partly because of a change in state law that increased the minimum sentence for gun possession charges, making plea deals less likely.

Court officials suspended the court in 2009.

On Tuesday afternoon at City Hall, de Blasio was expected to announce that the city would also allocate an additional $2 million to the office of the chief medical examiner in order to speed up DNA testing of guns seized by police. The mayor and other officials, including NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and city and federal prosecutors, will unveil the overall strategy, known as Project Fast Track.