New York Democrat Governor Kathy Hochul’s first choice to head New York State’s top court, Judge Hector LaSalle, was summarily rejected by the ultra-progressive New York State Senate last February. This centrist did not pass the senators’ left-wing ideological litmus test. Not wanting to face another humiliating defeat at the hands of members of her own party, Governor Hochul pivoted left. She nominated left-wing progressive Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Rowan Wilson to lead the Court, which is an insult to rape victims across New York State.
Judge Wilson authored a horrendous Court of Appeals decision in mid-March overturning a rapist’s conviction on a technicality. Evidently, law enforcement took too long to collect the defendant’s DNA evidence, which, according to Judge Wilson’s opinion, deprived the defendant of his right to a speedy trial.
In fact, it was the defendant himself who repeatedly refused to provide a DNA sample, causing substantial delays. Finally, law enforcement was able to take a sample of his DNA via a swab of his inner cheek that refuted the defendant’s denial that he had sex with the victim. Perhaps in hindsight the prosecution moved too slowly to obtain a warrant for collecting the DNA but there was no evidence that the delay prejudiced the defendant’s ability to mount an effective defense.
It took six years between the time that the rape occurred in 2009 and the jury’s verdict in 2015 finding the defendant guilty of first-degree rape. The victim had to wait six long years before finally seeing her rapist sentenced to 12 years in prison. But the convicted rapist was released from jail four years before the end of his sentence and has had the rape charge expunged from his record as if it had never happened. All because Judge Wilson and his liberal colleagues felt that the defendant had to wait too long before being tried for his heinous crime. By the way, there is no statute of limitations in New York for prosecuting first degree rape.
“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a maxim that should apply to the victim of the crime, not to the convicted criminal. But Judge Wilson turned the maxim on its head by freeing the convicted rapist and thereby denying the victim the justice to which she was entitled. Judge Wilson’s decision rewarded the convicted rapist for his own delay tactics and caused the rape victim to relive the horror he had caused her, without the solace that her rapist would serve out his entire sentence.
“Vacating any conviction on prompt prosecution grounds runs a genuine risk that a guilty person will not be punished, or, as in this case, not finish out his full sentence,” Judge Wilson acknowledged in his opinion. That is precisely what has happened because of the decision that Judge Wilson wrote for the majority.
In her strongly worded dissent, Judge Madeline Singas wrote that the Court’s “holding has disturbing echoes of our criminal justice system’s past shameful treatment of sexual assault victims and reverses recent progress aimed at assisting victims in obtaining justice.” She expressed the fear that Judge Wilson’s majority opinion will “be weaponized against victims and used in hindsight to rationalize closing long-running rape investigations and dismissing prosecutions.”
The women’s organization NOW NY is opposing Judge Wilson’s nomination for the position of Chief Justice of the New York Court of Appeals. Its executive director Sonia Ossorio said that his decision resulting in the release of a rapist “strips the rape survivor of her justice” and “shocks the conscious.”
In another opinion that Judge Wilson wrote – this time, fortunately, in dissent – he showed more solicitude for the legal rights of an elephant than for a rape victim’s right to justice. He dissented from the Court of Appeals’ 5-2 decision that Happy the elephant is not a “person” for the purpose of being entitled to release from the Bronx Zoo through habeas corpus. The majority concluded that habeas corpus “has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention.”
Judge Wilson was not happy with how most of his colleagues were treating Happy the elephant. “We should recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty not just because she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society,” Judge Rowan wrote. One other judge also dissented in this case.
Judge Wilson wrote in his lengthy dissent that “whether an elephant is a ‘person’ or whether it can bear responsibilities are irrelevant” to the question of whether it is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. “At its core, this case is about whether society’s norms have evolved such that elephants like Happy should be able to file habeas petitions to challenge unjust confinements,” he added. In making his argument, which reads more like a stroll through human history than a well-reasoned legal opinion on behalf of non-human animals, Judge Wilson compared the plight of a zoo animal to that of a human slave.
At least in this case, Judge Wilson was seeking the release of an elephant from captivity rather than overruling a rape conviction and ordering the release of the rapist from prison on a technicality. But both cases clearly demonstrate why elevating Judge Wilson, an ideological left-wing progressive, to lead New York’s highest court would be disastrous.