Assemblymember Pichardo Votes to Increase Fairness and Transparency in the Criminal Justice System

February 14, 2017

Assemblymember Victor Pichardo (D-Bronx) helped pass a legislative package to institute critical criminal justice reforms to ensure all New Yorkers are treated fairly. The legislation includes measures to raise the age of criminal responsibility, increase oversight of correctional facilities and regulate the use of solitary confinement.

“Our criminal justice system is broken – it disproportionately impacts communities of color and the high rate of recidivism shows that we need to do more to rehabilitate offenders,” said Pichardo. “These bills address these systemic problems, promote equality for all New Yorkers and help repair relations between the community and law enforcement.”

The Assembly reforms includes a measure to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years of age and ensure juveniles are not placed in adult facilities – legislation Pichardo has strongly pushed for (A.4876). New York is one of only two states that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.1 The bill also raises the age of juvenile delinquency and requires more services be made available to youth in the Family Court system. Raising the age is about giving these kids a chance at a better life, noted Pichardo.

The Assembly also passed a bill to ban correction officers from placing inmates who are under 18, mentally ill or are living with a disability into solitary confinement (A.1905). It would also subject this practice to review by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) commissioner and ensure solitary confinement is only used as a last resort disciplinary measure and for the minimal period necessary.

“It’s about time New York State starts treating young people in the court system in an age-appropriate manner,” said Pichardo. “This will also help address the disproportionate number of black and brown youth who enter the criminal justice system so we aren’t simply locking them up and throwing away the key.”

Another bill increases transparency in grand jury proceedings by making it easier for the media and concerned citizens to access records of the charges submitted and legal instructions given to the grand jury (A.4877). The court would still be allowed to withhold or seal information in order to protect witnesses or the accused. The bill also authorizes the judge to be present in the grand jury room, and allow the judge to assign an interpreter for witnesses who are not fluent in English. This measure will go a long way toward increasing public trust in the justice system, noted Pichardo.

The legislation also includes Kalief’s Law – named in honor of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide after spending three years at Rikers Island for charges that were ultimately dropped – to clarify speedy trial provisions of the state’s Criminal Procedure Law (A.3055-A). Under current law, prosecutors can circumvent timetables for trial by declaring they are ready to begin trial and then ask for an adjournment. The bill stipulates that the prosecution must submit evidence in discovery and file a proper accusatory instrument when they declare they’re ready for trial. At each court appearance, the judge would make a preliminary ruling on whether the time moving forward to the next court appearance date would be excluded or included in the speedy trial time for the overall case.

In conjunction with a measure to force disclosure of evidence material to the defense, prior to trial, even if the prosecution doesn’t plan to submit the evidence in trial (A.3056), this bill will help better protect the rights of the accused.

“Kalief Browder’s death was a preventable tragedy that highlights the problems with unnecessary trial delays and the use of solitary confinement on young people,” said Pichardo. “These bills will prevent this cruel and unusual punishment from being repeated.”

Another measure would require the court to seal convictions for a limited group of small-quantity marijuana convictions where it was burning or open to public view (A.2142). It would also allow New Yorkers who have already been convicted of these charges to appeal the court to seal their past offense, and prevent the prosecution from seeking a waiver of sealing as part of a plea agreement. The Assembly also passed a bill to prevent employers from inquiring about a prospective employee’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment has been granted (A.2343). This limited protocol does not apply where a criminal history background check is required by law.

“We must continue to do more to ensure that people’s futures aren’t ruined over minor, nonviolent offenses and help them get their lives back on track once they’re released,” said Pichardo.

The criminal justice reform package also includes a bill that would direct the state attorney general’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases involving the deaths of unarmed citizens at the hands of law enforcement (A.5617). High-profile court cases involving police, many of which end in dismissal or without charges being filed, have eroded public trust in the justice system. This bill will ensure such investigations are truly independent, noted Pichardo.

The Assembly also passed a bill to prohibit law enforcement agencies from using racial or ethnic profiling and allow the attorney general or citizens to seek an injunction in court to agencies to stop this practice (A.4879). Agencies would be required to compile data on civilian encounters and create new procedures to ensure compliance.

“This is a necessary step toward ending this racist practice once and for all and promoting greater cooperation between law enforcement and the community,” said Pichardo.

The legislative package would also make more offenses eligible for drug diversion (A.4237), bolster the integrity of witness statements and require police interrogations to be recorded in certain cases (A.4239) and increase the amount charitable organizations can donate toward a person’s bail (A.4880).