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Projects, Units & Initiatives

Criminal Defense Practice Special Litigation Unit

The Special Litigation Unit (SLU) of the Criminal Defense Practices engages in affirmative litigation to protect the rights of our clients and other New Yorkers who have been impacted by the criminal legal system and in policy and law reform to change the very laws that have caused the marginalization and criminalization of New Yorkers.  The knowledgeable and experienced members of the Special Litigation Unit are on call to advise and support the staff of the Criminal Defense Practice on a variety of subjects, particularly those that present novel or complex issues.

COVID-19 Response

The Legal Aid Society is tracking and publishing regular updates on the spread of COVID-19 on Rikers Island and other NYC jails. View our most current information here.

Our Impact

SLU’s practice includes both individual and class action litigation designed to remedy systemic problems in the criminal legal system.  In the 1990s, SLU litigated In Re: Rountree, the case that created the right to have a judge review a criminal charge within twenty-four hours of an arrest.  In recent years, SLU has litigated actions in federal and state courts in a wide range of issues, including:

SLU litigated Davis v. The City of New York and New York City Housing Authority, a groundbreaking class action regarding unconstitutional and racially discriminating stops, frisks, and arrests, that substantially altered the way public housing was policed.

SLU brought Jane Doe v. The City of New York and Benny Santiago, the first case to expose rape and sexual abuse of detainees/inmates by correctional staff at Rikers Island.

In Grubbs v. The City of New York, SLU challenged the City’s placement of cameras in attorney-client interview booths in the Staten Island courthouse.

In Alcantara,, v. Annucci, SLU is litigating on behalf of sex offenders who are being held in prison beyond the expiration dates of their prison sentences and months into their periods of “post-release supervision,” solely because they cannot find a place to live that’s more than 1000 feet from “school grounds,” something that’s nearly impossible in densely-populated New York City.

In Krimstock v. Kelly, SLU litigated the due process rights of people who had their automobiles impounded by the City of New York.

In Doe v. Pataki SLU established the right of sex offenders to have a fair hearing to accurately determine their registration and public notification levels.

In addition, SLU represents almost all persons held in City custody in a court part at Rikers Island called the Writ Court. At the Writ Court, incarcerated persons appeal agency determinations made by The New York City Department of Correction by filing an Article 78 motion. These motions generally appeal disciplinary infractions resulting in sentences to punitive segregation and/or loss of good time credit, classification statuses such as the use of restraints, the loss of contact visits, and being labeled as a gang member or contraband recipient.

Learn more about our casework on The Legal Aid Society litigation docket.