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DA Soares Urges Governor to Issue Executive Order for Exceptional Circumstances

For Immediate Release

March 17, 2020 

ALBANY, NY - In these uncharted waters, we find ourselves at a crossroads of public safety and public health. I commend Governor Cuomo for his leadership and direction in these exceptionally difficult times, and I now call upon him to take further necessary actions.

At this time, our country is living in an emergency state as declared by our local, state, and national leaders. On March 16, the Centers for Disease Control issued updated guidelines that all events of ten or more people should be cancelled or held virtually during the next 15 days to prevent continued spread of COVID-19.

In response, the Office of Court Administration has taken action to guarantee that essential Court duties will continue, ensuring that any accused party still receives the constitutional protections afforded by law while also limiting the spread of the virus. And while these measures are appropriate and necessary, OCA’s procedures do not address an equally important question.

In New York, Grand Juries are comprised of 23 people, and in Albany County, three separate Grand Juries come to the Courthouse once a week to hear cases presentations and vote on them. Unfortunately, the tightly-packed Grand Jury room at the Judicial Center does not allow for the social distancing measures recommended by health professionals at this time.

For obvious reasons, Grand Jury presentations as required by law cannot safely occur at this time. But state “speedy trial” rules embodied in Criminal Procedure Law mean that any delay in presenting cases to a Grand Jury can result in serious cases of assault, rape, murder, and the like being dismissed. This situation is untenable.

Therefore, I am urging the Governor to issue an Executive Order to suspend the statutory time limits under the speedy trial rules, as the safety of our community members, victims, witnesses, law enforcement and first responder personnel, and the accused parties themselves, would be threatened under the current model.

Although the situation today is unique and unparalleled, it is not without precedent. Much like after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, this type of disaster certainly fits the model for “exceptional circumstances” that would be suited for this order. Following the September 11 attacks, Governor Pataki issued Executive Order 113.7, which temporarily suspended speedy trial requirements, to ensure that the public safety would not be impaired. As Governor Cuomo has already issued an Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency for the State of New York, he certainly has the continued authority to declare this outbreak as an “exceptional circumstance” warranting a similar “Temporary Suspension and Modification of Statutory Provisions Establishing Time Limitations on Actions,” as his predecessor did. I sincerely urge the Governor to act on the behalf of all New Yorkers in the wake of this public health crisis. He has led with a clear and level head thus far, and I am confident that he will continue to act with the health and safety of all New Yorkers in mind.

 For more information please contact Cecilia Walsh at 

(518) 275-4710 or [email protected]