Suffolk County District Attorney and District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (“DAASNY”) President-Elect Timothy D. Sini have announced that a New York State law that allows criminal defendants to move for a court order granting them access to crime scenes, including an individual’s home, has been deemed unconstitutional in a Suffolk County Court ruling. The law was passed by State lawmakers as part of the sweeping criminal justice reforms, including amendments to bail and discovery laws, that were enacted in 2020.
“This is one of the many statutes included in the 2020 bail and discovery reforms that I opposed from the very beginning,” District Attorney Sini said. “It has the potential to re-traumatize crime victims, is invasive of victims’ privacy, and – as we successfully argued in this case – is blatantly unconstitutional. This decision is a win for victims’ rights and a win for public safety. We will continue to oppose this law should the decision be challenged, and will fight to protect residents’ safety.”
In People v. Jose Torres, the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, which is representing the defendant, filed a motion to grant a defense attorney and investigator access to a home at which Torres is alleged to have committed a burglary. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office opposed the motion and argued that the statute is unconstitutional in that it violates the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights and expectation of privacy under the U.S. constitution as well as the victim’s rights under Article I § 12 of the New York State constitution. In a decision issued on Sept. 17, Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Anthony S. Senft, Jr. ruled in favor of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, finding that Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 245.30 (2) is unconstitutional.
The Legal Aid Society has filed a petition to have the decision vacated and to have the crime scene preserved for their inspection. The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, today denied the application to preserve the crime scene and ordered the respondents – the District Attorney’s Office and Justice Senft – to submit arguments by Nov. 15 opposing the defendant’s attempted challenge to the trial court’s ruling.
The statute in question, CPL § 245.30 (2), states that “…the defendant may move, upon notice to the prosecution and any impacted individual, agency, or entity, for a court order to access a crime scene or other premises relevant to the subject matter of the case, requiring that counsel for the defendant be granted reasonable access to inspect, photograph, or measure such crime scene or premises, and that the condition of the crime scene or premises remain unchanged in the interim.”
The underlying case involved in this litigation concerns an alleged burglary on Aug. 2, 2020, wherein Torres is accused of stealing a safe containing approximately $60,000 cash from the lower level apartment of his residence in Wyandanch. He was arrested on Aug. 10, 2020, and charged with Burglary in the Second Degree, a class C felony; Burglary in the Third Degree, a class D felony; and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, a class A misdemeanor, for his alleged possession of a quantity of crack cocaine.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney James Scahill, formerly of the Felony Offense Bureau’s Major Crime Unit and currently assigned to the Vehicular Crime Bureau.