A healthy amount of skepticism is necessary these days when a criminal case draws a large amount of media attention. It seems that no matter what, many people who take news reports at face value want a conviction before even hearing the evidence against a defendant. While most criminal cases do require a plea deal to achieve the best outcome for the accused, it is still important to distinguish between the “court of public opinion” and the court of law.

New Yorkers may have seen headlines about the recent arrest of 45 people in Southeast Queens. The NYPD and the district attorney’s office say the majority of people who were charged are gang members and that large amounts of drugs were seized. Adding a certain media appeal, the police say the controller of the alleged drug operation is a longtime gang leader who became illicitly successful during New York’s 1980s crack epidemic. He and others are now facing serious drug charges.

Police say the investigation lasted 15 months, meaning a sizable amount of evidence may have been accumulated over that relatively long period of time. Still, investigators make mistakes; arrests are conducted improperly; evidence is compromised. These things happen, and when they do, they should be revealed in a person’s defense. No one deserves to be put in a cage on the basis of faulty evidence.

In this case, the police claim to have seized about 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, some 50 decks of heroin, an undisclosed amount of marijuana and about $70,000 in cash. Authorities also apparently seized cell phones, some handguns and a machine gun. A news report listed these items but didn’t indicate how the related charges would be meted out to defendants.

Regardless of the headlines surrounding these recent arrests, each defendant deserves his or her day in court. Prosecutors often overcharge defendants, and it will be in the interest of the accused to explore every option for achieving a significant reduction of charges or an otherwise optimal plea agreement.

Source: Queens Chronicle, “45 arrested as part of gang-related drug bust,” May 24, 2012