Encouraged by the success of Brooklyn’s Gun Court program, which attempts to apply the city’s gun laws more consistently by trying all cases before a single judge, city officials announced Tuesday that they would be expanding the program to Queens after the new year.
The Bronx and additional precincts of Brooklyn would also be included in the expansion, announced Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a City Hall press conference.
“People who carry illegal guns are a menace to the public,” the mayor said. “The law says that you cannot carry a concealed weapon in New York City and we are going to enforce that law.”
Under current New York State law, the crime of felony gun possession carried a mandatory one-year jail sentence, but a judge has discretion to impose a lesser sentence in certain limited circumstances.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who helped draft and enact the state’s original gun law, explained that gun courts are necessary because, “unfortunately, through the years, the exception has become the rule and too few individuals have been going to jail under the law.”
He believes that referring every indicted felony gun possession case to the gun court promises to end in dispositions more in line with the original intent of the statute.
Since opening last April, the Brooklyn gun court has resulted in more and longer jail sentences and the virtual elimination of straight probationary sentences for felony gun offenders.
The Queens and Bronx courts would follow this model, with one judge handling all qualifying felony gun possession cases from arraignment through trial and sentencing.
They will be complemented by a police training component designed to strengthen the cases that result from gun arrests. Officers will receive intensive instruction in how to recognize when a suspect is carrying a gun, how to safely apprehend and disarm such individuals and how to clearly articulate facts that provide the legal basis for searches and seizures during court testimony.
The Queens gun court is expected to process roughly 175 cases per year. Criminal Court Judge Michael Aloise has been designated to preside.
Officials estimate that approximately two-thirds of all felony gun prosecutions in the city will be heard in one of the three gun courts.
The gun court program is the latest component of Operation Spotlight, a public safety initiative that was launched in October of 2002 to address chronic misdemeanants including shoplifters, criminal trespassers, graffiti vandals and illegal drug users.
“Placing all gun cases together in a single courtroom before a single judge will give us greater consistency in the application of our existing gun laws, better monitoring of gun case dispositions and improved public safety through the imposition of the tough sentences that the Legislature intended,” Brown said. “The end result will be a safer New York City.”