Lawmakers Reshape NY Criminal Justice System, With Varied Reactions
On April 1, 2019 New York state lawmakers completed their work on legislation that promises to create an entirely new criminal justice system that is intended to keep more people out of jail and have criminal proceedings disposed of more quickly. These changes will eliminate cash bail for most low-level crimes, like misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, and require prosecutors and the defense to abide by strict deadlines for the exchange of material that’s intended to be used at trial. The new law will take effect next year.
One of the major changes is tightening the rules on the speedy trial rules, which for years have been routinely flouted by Courts and Prosecutors by creatively calculating time so that almost no time ever counts towards the People's time. This widespread violation of criminal defendants' rights has been tacitly sanctioned by the courts for years. The new law will also require stronger oversight by judges as to how the number of days since the start of a criminal proceeding can be tolled. Criminal charges are supposed to be resolved within a set number of days in New York, depending on the level of crime. Litigants can currently use procedural moves to stop the clock, effectively delaying a defendant’s trial for various reasons.
The new changes to the state’s laws on cash bail, criminal discovery and speedy trial were included in one of 10 omnibus bills that made up the $175 billion state budget passed by state lawmakers in Albany. The state Assembly didn’t pass the last budget bill and adjourned it.
Shortly after bill language on the various criminal justice reforms was made public March 31, 2109, stakeholders on the issue started to emerge with mixed views of the legislation. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, the group representing the state’s prosecutors, was particularly critical of the changes, which they said would place new burdens on their work in each jurisdiction.
The current president of DAASNY, was critical of both the substance of the legislation and how it was crafted by state lawmakers. Senate Republicans also opposed the changes, which they had previously called on Democrats in the majority to oppose. They held a press conference with members of law enforcement in recent weeks asking their colleagues to hold off on the legislation and reconsider the views of the state’s prosecutors.this isn't surprising since prosecutors are the ones who most often are responsible for the abuses in the first place.
New York City Criminal Defense attorneys hailed the reforms as a step toward leveling the playing field for individuals charged by prosecutors, who have, at times, used the current law to their advantage. Defenders have argued that the current system disenfranchises low-income defendants and people of color. President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the new changes will help alleviate the challenges those individuals face under the current law. Even though Defense Attorneys were generally supportive of the final legislation but vowed to continue urging lawmakers to end money bail altogether, which the Legislature appeared poised to do earlier this year.
Our New York Senate is responsible for the most historic and dramatic reforms to our troubled criminal justice system, including realizing the bail reform many of us sought for years.