New York State Passes Progressive Criminal Justice Reform
Supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State lawmakers approved progressive bail reform on Monday, April 1, 2019. The new pretrial detention laws compose one of ten (10) bills that make up the $175 billion state budget and are intended to balance what many perceive to be an unfair criminal system for those charged by state prosecutors.
These legislative reforms will be effectuated next year and have fundamentally recreated New York’s criminal justice system. According to Kevin S. Mahoney, Esq., lawmakers were tasked with creating a system that takes into account the financial situation of offenders, the compelling interest of ensuring public safety, decreasing the State’s prison population, speeding up the trial process, and granting court judges increased discretion in criminal proceedings:
“Of course competing interests with bail reform involve protecting against the overuse of bail, which many argue has resulted in people with less means being locked up more than the relatively affluent, and giving Courts tools to make sure defendants return for Court which is what the stated purpose of bail is.
Some discussions related to potentially eliminating cash bail have related to allowing for pre-trial restrictions on one’s liberty for particular crimes and an evaluation of the level of “dangerousness” of a particular defendant. That’s a slippery slope and one that would necessarily have to involve careful consideration of definitions and applicability.”
Bail reform advocates will be pleased— the pretrial detention laws eliminate monetary bail for non-violent felony and misdemeanor offenders, as many low-level offenders spend months languishing in police custody because they are unable to post the cash sums required for pre-trial discharge. The Governor’s proposal promotes offenders be released under non-monetary conditions, or on their own recognizance. Non-monetary conditions include supervised release with a pretrial services agency, electronic monitoring, or restrictions on offenders’ travel. Conversely, opponents argue that monetary bail is essential to the pretrial process as it ensures offenders will attend their court appearances and promotes public safety. However, bail bonds will still be required in cases of Class A felonies and most violent felony offenses; such felony offenses will also qualify for pretrial imprisonment.
The new system grants great discretion to judges overseeing each proceeding. Considering a variety of factors, including undue hardship to low-income offenders, criminal records, and possibility of leaving the state before a trial or hearing, judges will determine whether to set bail for an offender. Consistent with the current law, judges cannot assess an offender’s level of dangerousness, or threat they may pose to community security.
During pretrial discovery, prosecutors and defense attorneys must exchange evidence within fifteen days of a criminal offender’s initial appearance at a court hearing. The new law makes discovery deadlines extendable by thirty days should the prosecutor fail to provide discoverable evidence to defense lawyers. Under the existing arraignment process, the criminal offender (defendant) enters a plea in response to the criminal charges. Significantly changing plea deal procedure, Albany’s reforms allow defendants to assess the evidence gathered by prosecutors before they answer, or plead to, criminal charges. Lastly, New York State’s new laws amplify the timeliness of trials by requiring the court to ask prosecutors if they are truly prepared to move a case to trial. This requirement seeks to eliminate the procedural mechanisms prosecutors utilize to delay trials.
Reform supporters believe New York State’s new laws will level the playing field for low-income offenders and their lawyers. Reform resistors argue that the changes were initiated by ill-informed lawmakers and will further encumber the criminal system. The New York State Legislature will continue to address the reform dialogue throughout the spring legislative session.
If you have questions on these criminal justice reforms feel free to contact a member of the HoganWillig Criminal Defense Team at 716-636-7600.