On June 5, a jury of eighth-graders had a tough decision to make. After nearly 10 minutes of deliberation, the Youth Court jury ruled that a defendant did not have to pay a “dog at large” ticket after her family’s two canines — a labrador and an American bulldog/pit-bull mix — led at up to five police officers on a nearly two-hours long search.
The case appeared to rest on a single question, which Gabriella Colella, an “attorney” for the defense, pointedly asked her client, Lori Yen, when she took the stand.
“Who let the dogs out?” Colella demanded. It was a simple question, but as it turned out, the answer was not so simple.
At about 7 a.m., on the morning of the incident, Yen, a student at Nassau Community College and part-time dental assistant, she was roused from her slumber by her panicking mother. She had let the dogs out into the backyard for their morning business, not realizing that the construction workers who had closed, but not locked, the gate. The dogs escaped, and Yen and her brothers spent hours searchin. for them.
As Yen gave her accounting of the timeline, the lawyers for the prosecution, sitting at a table behind Colella, planned their rebuttal in a loud whisper, and with an abundance of intense hand gestures.
For the prosecution, none of whom stood no more than five feet tall, the case seemed clear cut. Yen’s dogs — which were not licensed — escaped her yard, worked their way around the neighborhood weaving in and out of traffic, and tied up precious law enforcement resources as they tried to detain them. When both Yen and Detective Ted Karousos of the Glen Cove Police Department converged on the canines at the same time, Karousos was directed by a superior to issue Yen a ticket.
But the defense had one more trick up its sleeve. Karousos had written down “Sub-section 21” — the portion of the code that details dog licensing application proceedures — as the violation number, when he should have written “Sub-section 27,” the correct reference for the “dog at large” violation. This inconsistency, Emma Burke argued in the defense’s closing statement, nullified the entire proceeding against her client.
The detective’s mistake, a source familiar with the city’s law enforcement practices told the Herald Gazette, was a common one, and could be attributed to an error in the software that police officers use for reference when they write tickets. Perhaps, this person mused, the software had not yet been updated with recently made changes to the City Code.
After both the prosecution and the defense rested their cases, and the jury retired to the deliberation room, Councilman Kevin Maccarone, defense attorney and St. Johns University law professor Dennis O’Brien and Glen Cove City Court Judge Richard McCord addressed the middle school lawyers, and offered their admiration, and a smattering of advice; O’Brien appeared to fall into a quite informative lecture on pre-trial proceedings and missed objection opportunities before McCord reminded him, gently, that he was talking to eighth graders, albeit, bright ones.