Sometimes, a crime story in the media is so sensational, that the first instinct for many readers is that authorities should automatically lock up the suspect and throw away the key. Certain crimes appear to be so terrible, at least on the surface, that it may seem unfair for the defendant to be accorded due process rights.
But New York’s criminal justice system could not make any claims of fairness if it treated those accused of particularly disturbing behavior differently than others. Either justice works the same way for everybody who is arrested, or it doesn’t work at all. Every defendant is entitled to a fair trial.
In a recent example, a young State Island woman is in jail after being arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment and child abandonment. Prosecutors say that the woman, 18, brought her infant son to a Harlem playground in March and left him there overnight, before calling 911 the next morning.
The child was discovered by someone who lives near the playground. He was examined at the hospital and released into the Administration for Children’s Services.
The teenage mother has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She was scheduled for a mental health examination as of April 22.
To our readers, especially parents, it may be unthinkable to abandon a child. But it has yet to be determined if mental illness played a role in this case. If so, a lengthy incarceration may not be the most appropriate reaction. It may also not be in the child’s best interests.