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Suffolk Legal Aid appeals challenge to New York bail reform


The Suffolk County Legal Aid Society is appealing a recent ruling that challenges the constitutionality of New York’s controversial bail reform laws that were approved in 2019.

The case, known as People v. Torres, centers on an alleged 2020 burglary in Wyandanch. Prosecutors said Jose Torres can be seen on surveillance entering a home and coming out with a safe. He was later arrested and charged with two counts of burglary and possession of cocaine.

However, Torres said he lived in the upstairs section of the home and his uncle and uncle’s wife lived in the downstairs section. Also, there’s no surveillance from inside the home and it’s not clear where the safe came from.

According to motions filed in the case, lawyers for Torres said the confusing living situation makes it difficult to mount an adequate defense by using only the crime scene photos provided by police. They want to inspect the home and take their own photos. They said the state’s new discovery laws passed in 2019 expand their ability to do so.

Prosecutors opposed this request. In a statement, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, who is running for reelection, called the request an invasion of privacy that “has the potential to re-traumatize crime victims.”

A lower court judge sided with Sini, saying only with a search warrant and probable cause can the defendant’s lawyer enter the home to gather more evidence in his defense.

In New York’s appellate court, the Legal Aid Society wrote that understanding the layout of the home is crucial to Torres’s defense and that the photos police took are low resolution and may overlook something relevant.

A similar case that challenges the reform laws was appealed early this year. In that case, a wave of other organizations — including police unions — filed amicus briefs hoping to persuade judges to rule in their favor.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.