Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly has passed criminal justice reform measures that build on legislation passed earlier this year designed to establish a more equitable system for all New Yorkers.
"The Assembly Majority remains committed to creating a criminal justice system that works for all New Yorkers, not just a few," said Speaker Heastie. "We have repeatedly passed measures that promote fairness, improve efficiency in court proceedings and help create safer communities."
"New Yorkers deserve a criminal justice system that is equitable and fair," said Assemblymember Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee. "Each year, we have fought tirelessly to deliver a comprehensive package of legislation that gets us closer to achieving that goal. In 2018, it is unacceptable that this sort of inequity still exists in our criminal justice system. The time is now."
Fairness and Transparency in Court Processing
One especially significant bill passed today would reform New York's criminal discovery laws and provide for an 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 prohibit, 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.
Preventing Discrimination, Reducing Stigma and Promoting Economic Fairness
In an effort to help promote rehabilitation and prevent recidivism, the Assembly today passed legislation known as "Ban the Box" to delay a potential employer's inquiry about an applicant's criminal history record (A.2343, Aubry). 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.
"Individuals need to be able to find gainful employment post-incarceration in order to become productive members of their communities," said Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry. "Banning the box would help prevent the sort of discrimination that often keeps these individuals from finding jobs and, in turn, would help reduce recidivism."
Another bill would provide for the automatic 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 effects of a low-level marijuana conviction can have dire consequences, such as the loss of public housing, professional licensure, or employment and higher education opportunities," said Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes. "For communities of color, these consequences are particularly harsh because of the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana possession law. This legislation ensures that an individual's future is not destroyed by a minor marijuana conviction."
Another bill passed today 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 (A.9786, Davila).
"Fees and fines placed on families for youth in contact with the criminal justice system often exacerbate financial distress and hurt a youth's ability to successfully reintegrate into the community," said Assemblymember Maritza Davila. "Instead of putting families in financial ruin, New York should be promoting rehabilitation and successful reentry."
Collecting Better Data to Evaluate Criminal Justice Policies
The Assembly has also passed 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 (DCJS) all arrest-related deaths. The data required to be reported to DCJS would include:
Earlier this year, the Assembly passed a measure to reform the speedy trial provisions of New York's Criminal Procedure Law, often known as "Kalief's Law." Additionally, the Assembly passed legislation to ease certain restrictions on the activities of charitable bail organizations, as well as a measure that would expand the availability of judicial diversion for treatment for certain crimes often associated with addiction.