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Top NY Court Siding With Criminal Defendants Under New Appointee

Recent rulings suggests that New York’s top court is headed in a more progressive direction, especially concerning the rights of criminal defendants. Caitlin Halligan, the court’s newest judge, has sided with the more liberal judges in several closely divided cases, often casting the deciding vote in favor of defendants’ rights, reports New York Focus. Halligan’s votes suggest her liberal leanings as a jurist, something that was unsure on her ascension in April . They could herald a dramatic change from the court’s prior makeup. Under the leadership of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, the Court of Appeals was a friendly place for prosecutors, and a hostile one for defendants. In her final year as chief, DiFiore and her allies ruled against defendants in the large majority of cases, including in rulings that expanded the power of police to question suspects or search private homes without warrants.

A new opinion by Chief Judge Rowan Wilson and supported by Halligan held that police had violated a defendant’s rights by entering his apartment to arrest him without a warrant. In a 2021 case, the DiFiore court explicitly approved similar entries in certain circumstances, over a dissent from Wilson. The case was one of five recent rulings in which Halligan cast a key vote in favor of defendants. “As we hoped, this court is showing a demarcation from past decisions,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who chairs the judiciary committee. Hoylman-Sigal, along with other senators and advocates, touted the rulings as validation of their fight last winter, when the state Senate rejected chief judge nominee Hector LaSalle, the first time it had ever voted down a governor’s nominee to lead the Court of Appeals. Even one of LaSalle’s most ardent backers praised Halligan’s votes for defendants’ rights. “Judge Halligan has been a great asset,” said Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, one of the few to support LaSalle. “From my philosophy, we made the right choice with her.”

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