Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the introduction of sweeping criminal justice reform measures to build on last year's Raise the Age law to ensure a more fair and equitable system for all New Yorkers.
These measures would reform New York's bail system, provide greater transparency of policing by collecting and publically reporting data, ensure fairness in court processing and increase transparency in grand jury proceedings.
"Reforming our criminal justice system and ensuring that everyone is treated equally is tremendously important to me. Last year, we took a major step toward correcting some of the injustices for our youth by raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, but our work is not finished," said Speaker Heastie. "This year, the Assembly Majority will continue to fight for legislation that brings fairness for all New Yorkers in our criminal justice system by enacting meaningful reforms that will make a difference in the lives of so many of our citizens."
"The Assembly Majority has worked for many years to address the fractures in New York's criminal justice system," said Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, chair of the Codes Commitee. "We know that a piecemeal approach does not serve the people of this state or the interests of justice. With these comprehensive reforms, we can continue to move toward a system that treats all individuals fairly. We have a moral duty to uphold the constitutional rights of all while promoting the safety of our communities. We can do both."
"The progressive reform proposals the Assembly Majority will put forward will greatly improve equality in our criminal justice system," said Assemblymember Weprin, chair of the Correction Committee. "Ensuring public safety does not require the disregard of justice and basic fairness and this legislative package finds that balance."
"There is no one size fits all approach to criminal justice," said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, chair of the Judiciary Committee. "We have mounting evidence that the current system is failing New Yorkers and failing our communities. It is past time that we remove barriers to justice and enact comprehensive reforms to modernize outdated and ineffective procedures that cause more harm than good."
"For too long, our criminal justice system has disproportionately burdened the poor and communities of color. We can no longer ignore the impact that an unfair criminal justice system has on our communities," said Assemblymember Nick Perry, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. "Without meaningful reform, the revolving door of crime and poverty will continue to disrupt the lives of young men and women, especially men and women of color."
Economic barriers should not determine whether a person, who has only been accused of certain offenses but not convicted, is stuck sitting in jail. Recognizing this, the Assembly will introduce legislation to reform our bail process. This legislation would remove these barriers and create a more equitable bail process.
Additionally, legislation to ease certain restrictions in current law on the activities of charitable bail organizations (A.4880-A, Blake) would be included as part of the criminal justice reform package. These organizations provide a possible release option – often coupled with social services and charitable aid - that can assist lower income individuals and help assure their attendance in court as their cases proceed. Under this bill, charitable bail organizations would be authorized to post bail of up to $10,000, and would no longer be limited to operating in only one county.
Assembly bill A.9786 (Davila) would allow the court to waive certain surcharges and fees for defendants under the age of 21 where such surcharges or fees impose an undue hardship or prevent successful reintegration, or where waiver would be in the interests of justice.
Fairness and Transparency in Court Processing and Grand Jury Proceedings
One especially significant bill included in the legislative package would reform New York's criminal discovery laws and provide for early and more robust exchange of information in criminal prosecutions (A.4360-A, Lentol). This legislation would implement many recommendations by expert panels and bar groups in New York and reflects the broader, expedited discovery of evidence approach that has long existed in many states throughout the nation. This bill would preserve current law that allows a protective order to be obtained to prohbiit, condition or limit disclosure of evidence when, for example, necessary to preserve evidence or protect a person from physical harm, intimidation, economic reprisal or unjustified annoyance or embarrassment.
Another bill would enact a reform of the speedy trial provision of New York's Criminal Procedure Law. The bill would encourage judges to inquire as to whether the prosecution is, in fact, ready for trial when the prosecution claims readiness (A.3055, Aubry). Under New York's statutory speedy trial rules, the prosecution must generally be "ready for trial" within six months for a felony charge and 90 days for a misdemeanor charge. The legislation, "Kalief's Law," is named after Kalief Browder who was imprisoned for nearly three years at New York City's Rikers Island jail awaiting trial in a case that ultimately was dismissed. Sadly, Kalief Browder later committed suicide.
The Assembly's proposals also include legislation (A.9787, Mosley) to increase transparency in grand jury proceedings when a court determines disclosure of certain information is in the public interest. The legislation would allow the court to release certain grand jury information in cases where a felony indictment is dismissed. The court would be required to afford the prosecutor or any other relevant persons the opportunity to be heard and to consider several factors in determining whether or not disclosure is appropriate.
This legislation would implement a long-overdue, common sense change: it would allow the judge to be present in the grand jury room, and thus be available to help assure the fairness of these closed-door proceedings.
Solitary Confinement Reform
The overuse of solitary confinement is both dehumanizing and ineffective while failing to meet our primary objective of keeping people safe. Studies show that states that have reduced their use of this form of punishment have seen sharp decreases in prison violence. By some estimates, more than 9 percent of New York's prison population is in solitary confinement on any given day, more than double the national average.
Legislation in this package (A.3080-A, Aubry) would prohibit placement in segregated confinement of inmates who are 21 years of age or younger, 55 years of age or older, mentally, physically or intellectually disabled, pregnant, in the first 8 weeks of post-partum recovery, or in a jail or prison newborn nursery program. For all other inmates, the bill would enact strict limits on the use and duration of solitary confinement.
Rehabilitation and Prevention
Among other measures proposed is legislation designed to end certain unfair and discriminatory practices. Assembly bill A.4879 (Bichotte) would prohibit law enforcement officers from using racial or ethnic profiling during the performance of duties. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies prohibiting racial and ethnic profiling, develop procedures for complaints and corrective action, and require the collection and reporting of data about motor vehicle and pedestrian stops by agency personnel. Additionally, it would empower the Attorney General and individuals who have experienced racial or ethnic profiling to seek a court order banning these practices and, where appropriate, to seek an award of monetary damages against a law enforcement entity that engages in racial or ethnic profiling.
Another bill would provide for the routine sealing of the records of certain low-level convictions for possession of marijuana and prohibit the waiver of such sealing as part of a plea agreement in order to avoid the unfair stigma of a life-long criminal record (A.2142, Peoples-Stokes).
The Assembly's proposals would also expand the availability of the judicial diversion for treatment to include additional types of charges, such as conspiracy in the fourth or third degree, auto stripping, and certain identity theft crimes. Individuals charged with these offenses are sometimes addicted to drugs or alcohol and commit these crimes to help raise money to support a drug or alcohol habit. This bill would allow courts to order such individuals to treatment while their cases are under consideration (A.4237, Richardson).
In an effort to help promote rehabilitation and prevent recidivism, the Assembly package includes legislation known as "Ban the Box" (A.2343, Aubry) to delay a potential employer's inquiry about an applicant's criminal history record. Interviews would proceed based on other factors and the potential employer could inquire about criminal history after making a conditional offer of employment. The legislation does not apply when a federal or state criminal background check is required by law.
To help instill greater confidence in our criminal justice system, the Assembly proposes establishing an Office of Special Investigation within the offices of the New York State Attorney General to investigate when a civilian dies either in law enforcement custody or after an encounter with a law enforcement officer (A.5617, Perry). District attorneys and the police regularly work closely together in investigating criminal conduct. This bill provides for independent investigations and independent prosecutions in such cases when police conduct is under review as a means to address what otherwise may be a significant conflict of interest.
The bill would also require the court to disclose the charges and the legal instructions submitted to the grand jury in such cases when there was grand jury consideration but no indictment. The court would provide the prosecutor an opportunity to be heard on the matter and the court would redact personal identifying information before disclosure.
Collecting Better Data to Evaluate Criminal Justice Policies
The Assembly package includes legislation to create the STAT Act which would provide greater transparency by collecting and publically reporting critical policing data from across the state. Under the bill (A.5946-A, Lentol), the chief administrator of the courts would be required to compile data on misdemeanor offenses and violations, broken down by county, and share the information with the legislature and the public. These reports would provide metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of existing criminal justice policies. The information would include:
The legislation would also require the chief of every police department, every county sheriff and the superintendent of state police to promptly report to the Division of Criminal Justice Services all arrest–related deaths. The data required to be reported to DCJS would include:
Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry said, "For our communities of color and those living in poverty, our justice system has truly been one of much injustice. We owe it to these communities to defend their constitutional right to a speedy trial and to ensure that those who have served their time are not deprived of the opportunities they need to become productive members of society."
"Without reform, our criminal justice system has proven time and time again to work against communities of color, unfairly stifle opportunities for individuals with criminal records and cause unnecessary financial strain on state and local governments and court systems," said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. "By sealing records for low-level marijuana offenders, we can ensure that they are able to participate in the workforce and remain productive members of society."
"Justice should never be determined because of how much money you or your family has in your bank account. For thousands of Bronxites and New Yorkers, the inability to post bail is the barrier for a fair criminal justice process, leading to inhumane and lengthy pre-trial incarceration, and it must end," said Assemblymember Michael Blake. "Our constituent, Kalief Browder, was a recognizable name in demonstrating the injustice of the bail system that requires dramatic reform. But, his tragic story is not the only one. Our bill will encourage more nonprofit organizations to establish charitable bail funds to help individuals who need financial assistance to post bail and will do everything they legally can to not lose their families, their innocence, their jobs and their dignity."
"Everyone deserves to be treated justly by law enforcement, regardless of race or ethnicity," said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. "This legislation will help put an end to unconstitutional and ineffective practices that overwhelmingly hurt people of color and sow distrust between our communities and law enforcement."
"We need to make sure that young people in New York State have the opportunity to succeed," Assemblymember Maritza Davila said. "Waiving fees and surcharges for defendants under 21, means that kids who are already faced with disadvantage and hardship, won't go into crippling debt that will keep them from making the most of the rest of their lives and being successful members of the community."
"Ending the cycles of crime and poverty in our communities requires us to truly evaluate their origins and address them with thoughtful legislation," said Assemblymember Diana Richardson "By providing greater access to diversion programs and treatment instead of incarceration, we can end the stigma of addiction and the cycle of crime that too often follows it."
"Disclosing the record of the grand jury proceedings when no felony indictment results is essential to ensuring that prosecutors present these cases that involve credible allegations of serious crimes in a way that is factual, lawful and free of bias," said Assemblymember Walter Mosley. "My bill does not undermine the process of the grand jury, but it does give the public the right to know the details of a case prosecutors made before the grand jury in order to better understand why jurors, based on the merits of the case and the prosecutor's presentation of it, decided not to move forward with a criminal charge."