ALBANY – Following the release today of strong criminal justice reform proposals by lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly, the New York Civil Liberties Union responded with key reform principles to anchor next month’s state budget negotiations. The NYCLU, along with advocates led by public defender associations, met today with legislators in the statehouse. Actions by advocates and legislators come after Governor Cuomo unveiled proposals last month to amend speedy trial, evidence sharing and bail practices.
In district attorney offices, the legislature, the courts, and communities across the state, momentum is growing to reform bail practices that make liberty contingent on the size of New Yorkers’ bank accounts. Last week, in the first judicial ruling of its kind in New York, a Dutchess County court sided with the NYCLU, ruling that judges must consider alternatives to money bail as well as a defendant’s ability to pay.
The following statement is attributable to Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union:
“Governor Cuomo and legislators in Albany have decisively acknowledged that our state criminal justice system, which disproportionately punishes people of color and the poor, is inadequate, unfair, and deeply broken. Each year tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have not been convicted of a crime sit behind bars, pulled away from their work and their families, because they can’t afford to pay their way out. A slow and backlogged court system drags out their injustice, and unfair evidence sharing rules prevent them and their lawyers from effectively preparing to argue their case in court. As the Governor and lawmakers prepare for state budget negotiations next month, they must ensure that the final legislation fulfils the promise of fairness and justice.
“New Yorkers charged with minor offenses should not spend time locked up, and pre-trial jail time should be used sparingly, only when there is no other way to ensure someone returns to court. Judges must be required to consider alternatives to money bail, should eliminate the option of for-profit insurance bail bonds, should not set bail higher than what someone can pay, should not set bail without lawyers present, and should be required to articulate their reasoning in writing or on the record.
“When it comes to trial process, trials must happen sooner, at a firm date that defendants can count on and a reasonable time from their arrest. No one should wait in jail because a court is understaffed and too busy to hear their case. Defense attorneys must have open, early and automatic access to the evidence collected by prosecutors against their clients in order to effectively prepare for trial and give New Yorkers’ their day in court.
“We look forward to working with the Governor and lawmakers in both chambers to make New York a national leader by seizing the moment for reform. New Yorkers cannot wait any longer.”