In the course of Suffolk County District Attorney, the question of who will be tougher on crime – Democrat Tim Sini or Ray Tierney, the Republican and Conservative Party candidate – has emerged as the top issue.
Sini, the incumbent, is seeking election for another term against Tierney, a former federal and Suffolk County prosecutor.
Sini, 41, from Babylon, says he has increased MS-13 gang violence, environmental crimes, drug trafficking and political corruption since joining in 2018.
Sini, a former federal prosecutor, has held frequent press conferences on arrests and cases that his office pursues throughout his tenure.
“We have kept Suffolk safe for the last six years and will continue to fight for the preservation of Suffolk as safely as possible and will continue to decimate gangs like MS-13,” Sini told Newsday, referring to his service as police commissioner and district attorney.
Tierney, 55, of Holtsville, points to his experience as a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in New York and as a former prosecutor in Suffolk County.
Tierney, chief compliance and enforcement adviser at Suffolk County Off-Tracking Betting Corp., said as a district attorney that he would bring more indictments in criminal cases, restore a dedicated gang unit, reinstall ShotSpotter technology in the county and lobby state law to overthrow bail reform laws.
During the campaign, Tierney has held regular press conferences, highlighting what he says was Sini’s failure to aggressively prosecute criminal defendants who allegedly committed more serious crimes while on bail or ordered release.
“I do not portray myself as tougher on crime,” Tierney, who is not registered in a political party, told Newsday. “I’m tougher on crime.”
It is not uncommon for district attorney races to focus on the question of which candidate will fight crime most effectively, said political consultant Michael Dawidziak, who has primarily worked for Republicans.
“‘I’m the person who wants to keep your neighborhoods safe, keep criminals off the streets,’ ‘Dawidziak said of typical campaign announcements.
But district attorney campaigns have a twist this year on Long Island and in some other areas of the state, Dawidziak said.
Republicans are attacking Democrats for bail reform laws passed by the democratically controlled state legislature in 2019.
The reform package eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent charges, so defendants do not have to wait in jail before trial if they cannot afford to pay bail.
Opponents of the law, including many county attorneys, warned that it could enable criminal defendants to commit crimes while out of jail.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
Dawidziak said opinion polls have shown bail reform is unpopular in suburbs such as Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“I have not seen anything so unpopular in a long time,” Dawidziak said.
Both Sini and Tierney say they are against the bail law.
Sini served as federal prosecutor for more than four years.
He accused cases against the former national leader of the Trinitarios gang, a Bronx drug deal and a murder-for-rent conspiracy, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the southern district of New York.
Sini, a graduate of American University in Washington, DC and Brooklyn Law School, worked for about a year as a deputy in Suffolk County for public safety under County Chief Steve Bellone, who appointed him county commissioner.
Sini served as commissioner for 18 months. He was elected District Attorney in Suffolk County in November 2017.
Sini, who was recently elected president of the Bar Association, said that if re-elected, he would continue to invest in new technology and “make the office a national model.”
Tierney, graduated from Brown University and St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, started his career as a Suffolk County District Attorney.
During his 14 years in office, Tierney prosecuted two men accused of Shane Daniels’ near-fatal assault outside a nightclub in Westhampton Beach in 1996, as well as rape, domestic violence and child pornography.
Tierney joined the U.S. Eastern District Attorney’s Office in 2008. He prosecuted the MS-13 gang and cases of political corruption against former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto and former Suffolk Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh.
In 2019, Tierney joined the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, overseeing units focused on violent criminal companies, crime strategies, and police body-worn cameras.
He served there for about a year before moving to Suffolk OTB.
As a challenger in the DA’s race, Tierney has focused on Sini’s record as a district attorney, arguing that the incumbent is “soft on crime.”
Tierney’s primary argument is that Sini’s office has not prosecuted enough suspects, including in dozens of illegal gun possession cases.
Tierney says he would charge in all sorts of gun possession cases.
Tierney has held weekly press conferences focusing on topics including a spate of fentanyl overdoses on the East End in August, a murder in April in the Bay Shore and a shooting there in September.
Of the suspects in these cases, three had been out of jail on bail or ordered release for previous arrests for crimes such as illegal possession of weapons and assault, according to court records.
Tierney says Sini’s office should have prosecuted the suspects immediately after their first offenses or for more serious charges.
If that had happened, judges who treated them as defendants following subsequent arrests could have taken the cases more seriously and were more likely to have placed a larger bail or detained the defendants in jail, according to Tierney.
“They posed a clear and present danger to society,” Tierney said of the defendants. “You take that person off the street as soon as possible.”
Sini defended his performance in all the cases Tierney refers to, saying his office fought for higher bail or for remand in custody when allowed by law.
“There is literally not a single thing in this process history that one could even externally claim was handled anything but appropriately by my office,” Sini told Newsday.
The three cases that Tierney has focused on in her press conferences on the indictment issue involve black male defendants
Jason Williamson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Race, Inequality and Law, said campaign stories like Tierney’s play to “existing fears and stereotypes” about black men.
Tierney replied that by raising the question of whether Sini is accusing aggressively enough, he is speaking on behalf of criminal victims in the county that include people of color.
Lawyers for some of the defendants say Tierney blames their clients for serious past crimes they have not been convicted of when they deserve presumption of innocence.
Sini said his prosecutors have used their discretion to seek indictment appropriately.
When an indictment was not immediately filed for previous criminal allegations, prosecutors either negotiated indictments with defense attorneys, gathered more evidence for a broader investigation, or tried to protect witnesses or victims who did not want to be identified in court, Sini said.
“Every accuser knows that there are circumstances where you do not accuse,” Sini said. “But let’s be clear, we have prosecuted thousands of cases.”
In New York, indictments by grand juries in secret cases represent the primary path to criminal prosecution, legal experts said.
Yet charges are filed in only a relatively small percentage of cases, according to data from the State Department of Judicial Administration.
With 101,369 crimes arrested by adults nationwide in 2020, there were 12,394 crimes, the data show.
In Suffolk County, there were 3,560 crimes arrested last year and 438 crimes against prosecutors.
In Nassau, the rate was higher in 2020: 4,607 arrests for crimes and 971 charges.
Hofstra University’s Criminal Law Professor Alafair Burke called it unusual for defendants to be arrested for crimes while awaiting a solution to previous charges.
In New York City, for example, 14% of people released on bail for crimes were resumed on other charges by 2020, according to the New York Police Department’s website. Such statistics are not available for Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Burke, a former Portland prosecutor, OR and a novelist, said the only way to ensure defendants would not insult again while on bail would be to remand them all while awaiting trial, which “neither is practical or fair. “
Nevertheless, Burke said, “it’s every prosecutor’s nightmare – you do not prosecute a case for some reason, and then something bad happens.”
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