Speaker Carl Heastie and Codes Committee Chair Joseph R. Lentol announced, Monday morning, that the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2019-20 Budget Agreement invests in grants and programs to help crime victims, defendants and all New Yorkers better navigate the legal system. It includes important reforms designed to make our criminal justice system work for everyone regardless of background or socioeconomic status.
“The Assembly Majority is committed to making sure every New Yorker is treated fairly by our criminal justice system,” Speaker Heastie said. “This budget builds on our fight for young people in Raise the Age, and includes critical provisions the Assembly has championed that will ensure that every New Yorker is treated with dignity and respect. But we know our work is not done. We will continue fighting for reforms that will make a difference in peoples’ lives.”
“I am glad that this budget includes long time Assembly priorities to create a more equitable and fair criminal justice system in New York,” Assemblymember Lentol said. “The Assembly Majority will keep fighting for reforms that move our state toward a system that treats all individuals fairly.”
Wealth should not determine whether a person, accused but not convicted of a crime, will be jailed while awaiting trial. The budget reforms New York State’s bail system by eliminating cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses, and substituting release on recognizance or on non-monetary conditions when appropriate. It also requires that police officers issue an appearance ticket, in lieu of arrest, to most people charged with a misdemeanor or class E felony. The bail system continues for higher-level cases, but this law requires judges to consider the financial resources of each defendant, as well as alternate forms of bail, such as secured or unsecured bond.
“Every year, thousands of New Yorkers are incarcerated awaiting trial because of unreasonably high bail that is impossible for most minority families to meet. But change is upon us,” said Assemblymember Latrice Walker, Assembly sponsor of bail reform legislation. “This budget will reassure New Yorkers that in this state, justice is not for sale.”
The budget also enacts a necessary reform of the speedy trial provisions in New York’s Criminal Procedure Law. Under New York’s statutory speedy trial law, the prosecution must generally be “ready for trial” within six months for a felony charge and 90 days for a misdemeanor charge. This law will require courts to determine at each court appearance, where possible, whether the speedy trial clock will continue to run during the time between court appearances. The legislation will also allow the court to inquire as to whether the prosecution is, in fact, ready for trial when the prosecution claims readiness. It will also require that the government certify it has met disclosure obligations before a statement of readiness is accepted.
The legislation was inspired in part by the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a teenager who was imprisoned for nearly three years at New York City’s Rikers Island jail awaiting trial in a case that ultimately was dismissed. Kalief Browder later committed suicide.
“Too often for our communities of color and for those living in poverty, the justice system is unjust,” said Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, who sponsored this legislation in the Assembly. “We owe it to these communities to defend their constitutional right to a speedy trial.”
The budget law also includes reforms to the laws governing the exchange of information in criminal cases. The revised “discovery” law, requires early, scheduled disclosure, while maintaining strong oversight by the judge. It broadens the circumstances in which the court may issue a protective order conditioning, denying or limiting disclosure where appropriate. Under the new law, the prosecution will be required to provide discovery to the defense within 15 days after arraignment, and will have to make certain disclosures before most negotiated guilty pleas. Reciprocal discovery from the defense to the prosecution is expedited as well.
The budget also includes criminal justice reforms that will:
- Extend criminal justice programs for one year;
- Expand the Rape Shield Law to include sex trafficking crimes;
- Reform asset forfeiture laws to assure greater accountability;
- Reduce the maximum misdemeanor sentence to 364 days;
- Increase the criminal history search fee for searches not mandated by law;
- Require expanded reporting by law enforcement agencies on the use of force;
- Require the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop a model use of force policy for police and peace officers;
- Expand eligibility for the state’s shock incarceration program;
- Remove certain mandatory bars to employment and licensing;
- Repeal the mandatory suspension of a driver license for a drug offense conviction;
- Limit public disclosure of arrest photographs, except when needed for legitimate law enforcement purposes;
- Require removal of inaccurate information from criminal history record reports; and
- Expand protections against discrimination for persons whose cases are adjourned in contemplation of dismissal and dismissed.
The budget also provides $4.83 million in Legal Services Assistant Fund (LSAF) support for civil and criminal legal service program grants, $600,000 for Byrne/JAG legislative allocations, $1.5 million in funding for New York City gun violence street outreach programs, and $1 million for anti-gang youth programs on Long Island, as well as specific funding for SNUG and CURE Violence programs in Brooklyn, Queens, Wyandanch, and Staten Island.
The SFY 2019-20 spending plan also includes $7.33 million for Assembly restorations to various programs that would otherwise see reduced support, including addition funding for the following organizations:
- $1.06 million for the New York State Defenders Association;
- $750,000 for Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York;
- $609,000 in domestic violence-related civil and criminal legal services support;
- $600,000 for immigrant legal services;
- $400,00 for Neighborhood Legal Services; and
- $147,000 for rape crisis centers.