Supreme Court Justice Brendan T. Lantry delivered a resounding judicial rebuke to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecutorial discretion, dismissing felony charges against two individuals accused of purchasing false COVID-19 vaccine passports.
Justice Lantry’s ruling dissected the arguments presented, ultimately determining that the pursuit of felony charges in this instance was disproportionate, especially when juxtaposed against the backdrop of other, more severe crimes being dismissed by the prosecutor’s office.
The ruling took aim at Bragg’s office for its seemingly arbitrary application of justice, highlighting a systemic issue that transcends the immediate case.
“This Court is astonished to see the People make such an argument when the People routinely — nearly daily — move to dismiss significantly more serious counts or entire indictments in the interests of justice,” Justice Lantry remarked, pointing out the inconsistency in prosecutorial practices.
“An indictment or any count thereof may be dismissed in furtherance of justice…when, even though there may be no basis for dismissal as a matter of law upon any ground specified…such dismissal is required as a matter of judicial discretion by the existence of some compelling factor, consideration, or circumstance clearly demonstrating that conviction or prosecution of the defendant upon such indictment or count would constitute or result in injustice,” the court noted.
The New York County District Attorney’s Office, led by Alvin Bragg, discovered hundreds of people across the country bought fake COVID-19 vaccination cards. Out of over two hundred individuals involved, sixteen were selected for felony charges. Fourteen of these buyers admitted guilt to a lesser charge of a misdemeanor for possessing a forged document. The last two defendants, “J.O.” and “R.V.”, were accused of buying counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards from Clifford.
“Clearly, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree is not among the most serious crimes in the New York Penal Law, nor are the factual allegations against Defendants R.V. and J.O. particularly serious in nature,” the judge wrote.
The court agreed with the prosecution that falsifying a healthcare database, as Clifford and Barkley are accused of, is a serious offense. However, it was more sympathetic to defendants J.O. and R.V., who bought fake cards under personal circumstances that made their actions less severe. J.O. was a nursing student who later received the vaccine, and R.V. had turned his life around after a previous conviction and was working as an essential worker during the pandemic.
The court found that while Clifford and Barkley’s actions required significant resources to correct and posed risks to public health, J.O. and R.V.’s actions, though illegal, did not result in direct harm. The court also considered the broader societal impact and the evidence against each defendant, leaning towards dismissing charges against J.O. and R.V.
Regarding the defendants’ history and character, the court noted positive aspects for J.O. and R.V., including J.O.’s lack of prior criminal history and R.V.’s rehabilitation and contributions to society. Regarding law enforcement misconduct, the court saw no reason for dismissal on these grounds. The potential impact of sentencing and how it aligns with the purposes of justice was also examined, with the court finding that probation or lesser sentences might be more appropriate for certain defendants.