The Promise of a 'No-Jail' Recommendation
Jonathan Oberman, New York Law Journal
April 8, 2016 New York Law Journal - On Feb. 11, a jury convicted Peter Liang of fatally shooting unarmed Akai Gurley in the stairwell of the Louis H. Pink housing project in East New York. The jury found Liang guilty of second-degree manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. However, in preparation for the April 15 court appearance at which Judge Danny Chun will impose a sentence, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson submitted a letter announcing that his office would not seek jail time.
The letter and its recommendation engendered predictable reactions.
Members of the Chinese-American community, representatives of the New York Police Department—Patrick J. Lynch and Edward Mullins—and Liang's attorneys applauded the recommendation, insisting it lent credence to their claim that the prosecution should have never been initiated.
The Gurley family condemned the proposed non-jail sentence as inadequate, affirming that any sentence other than incarceration "sends the message that police officers who kill people should not face serious charges." In less measured language, Gurley's aunt, Hertencia Petersen, called Thompson's proposal "a modern-day lynching," that was "like killing Akai over and over again."
On its face, removed from the defining historical and social context, Thompson's recommendation has much to commend it. It is thoughtfully calibrated to the specific facts and circumstances of the incident and responds to the competing values meant to be advanced by any criminal sentence. Thompson seeks to balance concerns with retribution, deterrence, both specific and general, and rehabilitation. He advocates for a sentence that pushes back against the entropic pull to incarcerate.