James McCarthy, Judge, Oswego County


James McCarthy, Judge, Oswego County

James McCarthy, Judge, Oswego County


The initial planning and implementation of the Oswego Sex Offense Court saw both challenges and benefits.  The Honorable James McCarthy, the first of the New York State dedicated Sex Offense Court judges, discussed this planning process with the Center for Court Innovation:

Q: What were the specific challenges the Oswego Sex Offense Court faced?
There was resistance because of lack of knowledge. Some have the mistaken concept that the designated sex offense courts somehow de-criminalize sex offenses, when in fact the model is about properly sentencing convicted sex offenders. Defendants that deserve to go to prison go to prison. There are no "breaks" because someone is in the sex offense court.

Q: How have partners contributed and responded to the Oswego Sex Offense Court?
Through the court planning process, it was clear how important it is to get partners involved.  The feedback from the probation officers is that in the old days, probation violations could take months to get a disposition. In the sex offense court, if they file a violation on a Monday, there could be a hearing as early as that week. These violations are handled in front of the other defendants and they see what happens when someone violates. The effect is 1000% better. When someone does something they shouldn't, I know about it immediately. Their rights are preserved, the victims are safe, and the court is able to address things appropriately and immediately.

Q: Can you describe some of the benefits of the Oswego Sex Offense Court?
All of these cases are heard by one judge who is trained to deal with the cases and is informed about the dynamics of sex offenders. In addition, the prosecutor, victim advocate, legal service attorneys and court staff are all trained as well, so the partners are mobilized in an efficient manner that allows prosecutors, defense attorneys and defendants to appear within 2 weeks for a pre-trial conference. This case processing is a formula that allows for speedy dispositions where the attorneys are informed, the case cannot lag and no one is falling through the cracks. It used to be that delay could be used as a weapon in sex offense cases, but with this court, the defendants, the victims, and the community are all being better served.

It is rare that sex offenders will be incarcerated forever. If sex offenders have families, they may have to live with those families, in their neighborhoods. In order to be productive and comply with conditions of probation, sex offenders must have jobs, make a living and stay away from things that could trigger the offending behavior. All of these things require supervision, constant monitoring and a criminal justice system that can quickly respond to even the most subtle signs.

When sex offenders know that they are being watched and the community knows that the court and probation are keeping a watchful eye on defendants, then it is rare that they will ever get away with something. Hopefully under these circumstances, the sex offender can live somewhere and work somewhere, without being demonized, while still being closely supervised.

Q: What do you see as the future of the sex offense problem solving courts?
I think you will find a sex offender court in every county in New York and every state in this country. Sex offender courts are going to expand because the public wants to see compliance and monitoring by the criminal justice system of sex offenders that are in the community. Once the public realizes what can be done via these courts, I think the model will be established everywhere. All the partners are already there, it just needs to be organized, the partners need to be trained and the expertise needs to be applied.


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