April’s focus – Criminal Justice Reform
We have been seeing much-needed reforms to the New York State criminal justice system in recent years – and the agreed 2020 budget just this past weekend highlighted even further reforms (source):
- Reforming Bail and Pretrial Detention Reform: As part of a groundbreaking plan to modernize New York’s bail system, cash bail will be eliminated for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, alongside a new requirement that police officers must issue desk appearance tickets to most people charged with misdemeanors and Class E felonies, rather than making a custodial arrest. Together, these reforms will ensure approximately 90 percent of people charged, but not yet convicted of a crime, are not sitting in jail awaiting trial solely because they do not have the economic resources to meet bail.
- Transforming the Discovery Process: In order to overhaul New York’s antiquated discovery process by which prosecutors were able to withhold basic evidence until the day the trial begins, legislation included in the FY 2020 Enacted Budget will require that both prosecutors and defendants share all information in their possession well in advance of trial. Defendants will also be allowed the opportunity to review whatever evidence is in the prosecution’s possession prior to pleading guilty to a crime. In addition, the legislation will ensure that victims and witnesses are protected from intimidation and other forms of coercion by providing prosecutors with the ability to petition a court for a protective order, shielding identifying information when necessary to ensure the safety of witnesses and the sanctity of the judicial process.
- Ensuring the Right to a Speedy Trial: Under New York State law, misdemeanors are required to be resolved within 90 days and felonies within 180 days, however, the average length of pretrial detention is far longer. To address this injustice, the FY 2020 Enacted Budget includes legislation that requires courts to take a proactive role in advising litigants on how time will be charged. When appropriate, courts will also inquire into the government’s readiness to proceed to trial and require that the government file all appropriate paperwork before a statement of readiness is accepted, ensuring that the government is not able to proceed to trial until the defendant has been provided with all of the information in the case against them.
While these are great steps forward, we must continue to pressure our representatives to address further reforms, specifically an end to solitary confinement.
Contact your State Senate and Assembly representatives and ask them to support the following bills and end the inhumane practice of solitary confinement.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner: (518) 584-5493
State Senator Daphne Jordan: (518) 455-2381