What Are Your Rights: Kyra’s Law Seeks To Change Family Court System

Recorded on March 13, 2024

We’ve been bringing you the latest in the recent death of 10-month-old baby, Halo Branton, in Schenectady. Her mother, Persia Nelson, was charged in her death after she was found in a utility tunnel on the GE campus. At the time of this recording, Nelson’s preliminary hearing is scheduled, but the Schenectady County D. A. says that they’ll be proceeding to a grand jury quickly on this case. Supervising attorney Cassandra Kazukenus from the law firm of Harding Mazzotti, LLP is on CBS6 to discuss this case and how it relates to the recent push for Kyra’s Law.

At Harding Mazzotti, LLP, the legal team is committed to ensuring representation and is available to provide answers to your questions and to ensure your rights are protected. For more information, please contact us to learn more, today!

Man: The following segment is sponsored by Harding Mazzotti.

Interviewer: We’ve been bringing you the latest in the death of 10-month-old baby, Halo Branton, in Schenectady over the weekend. Her mother, Persia Nelson, was charged in her death after she was found in a utility tunnel on the GE campus over the weekend. Nelson’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for this week, but the Schenectady County D. A. says that they’ll be proceeding to a grand jury quickly on this case. So Supervising Attorney, Cassandra Kazukenus is here from Harding Mazzotti. Thank you for being here this morning.

Cassandra: Thank you for having me.

Interviewer: Can you explain a little bit about the grand jury, why this is so important in this case?

Cassandra: Yeah. So the grand jury is a New York state constitutional right. It basically serves as a protective measure for anyone who is potentially going to be indicted or charged with a serious crime like a felony. So obviously you want some protections because obviously it has impact on your regular life if you’re being charged with serious crimes and maybe there isn’t enough evidence. So it serves kind of as a, not a gatekeeper, but a buffer between the government and private citizens to make sure that there’s enough evidence to proceed forward.

Interviewer: And a lot of times the grand jury means that more charges could come down.

Cassandra: It does. So the grand jury has quite a bit of power. So the prosecutor presents the case to them and it’s in front of a stenographer but it’s not in front of a judge like the trial. It’s secretive, it’s not for the public. But the grand jury has a different role than a typical jury in that they can ask questions, they can ask for clarification, they can ask for legal guidance, they can subpoena witnesses. If they think other witnesses need to come in, they can say, “You have enough evidence for the felony,” or, “Maybe this is better for a misdemeanor,” or, “Maybe it should go to family court,” or, “Maybe there shouldn’t be a charge at all.” So there’s a lot more give and take between the prosecutor and the jury members when it’s a grand jury than it is on a typical trial.

Interviewer: Gotcha. And yeah, you mentioned public doesn’t really get much details about it other than usually an indictment that comes down is what we hear.

Cassandra: Correct.

Interviewer: Yeah. There’s also, at the same time as this is all going on in this case, talk about Kyra’s Law and this rally that happened this week at the Capitol. Is this any way related? Could Kyra’s Law, if it were to pass, impact a case like this?

Cassandra: So Kyra’s Law, the purpose behind it is to protect children in custody disputes or in family disputes which is obviously a great, great thing. And historically, there’s been the ability to downplay accusations where the other parent says, “Well, they’re only saying that because they want to win the custody argument or the legal argument.” What this would do would increase the court intervention or the court’s participation where that accusation is made. They would have to file a petition and then from that petition, there could be an evidentiary hearing so that there would be more likelihood of intervention in that instance. It arises obviously out of a super sad situation in the story. And so it would increase the court’s involvement and have more training for courts to identify these situations. And this one at this point, New York State Child Protective Services have said they’re not going to comment on it. I believe her attorney yesterday said she had no prior criminal history. So, obviously, there’s a lot of speculation online. There’s the potential that, yes, if there is some sort of history there that would trigger it such as some mental health issues, you know, alcohol, drugs, any of those kinds of things that can be reasons, or prior threats, prior acts in the home. But we don’t know if that was involved in what was going on with the custody in that situation so it’s hard to say whether it would have helped in this one.

Interviewer: Yeah, still a lot of unknowns in this case that we’re waiting to find out. All right. Well, thank you for explaining this all for us. We appreciate it. And for more information on all of our What Are You Right segments or to suggest a story idea, you can always go to our website, cbs6albany.com.

Have You Been Injured?