Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly has passed the remaining bills that make up a comprehensive package of criminal justice reform that were introduced by the Assembly earlier this year, including critical legislation that would end monetary bail in most instances.
"The Assembly Majority has long been a proud champion of criminal just reform for New Yorkers," said Speaker Heastie. "We fought tirelessly to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility because we believe every New Yorker deserves the opportunity to lead a productive life. Now, we must ensure that economic status does not force an individual to sit in jail while he or she awaits trial. This legislation represents our unwavering commitment to an equitable criminal justice system for all."
"New York's antiquated criminal justice system must be reformed in order to help ensure its integrity and fairness," said Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee. "This legislation helps modernize our current system, promotes economic fairness and gets us closer to our goal of a criminal justice system that is fair for all New Yorkers."
Reforming New York's Antiquated Cash Bail System
One vital piece of legislation passed today would, in most instances, eliminate the option for a court to impose a monetary bail requirement at arraignment, or thereafter, when a defendant is charged with a traffic infraction, violation, misdemeanor or non-violent felony (A.10137-A, Walker). Instead, the courts would be required to release the individual on recognizance, release on non-monetary conditions, monitor by a pre-trial services agency or impose travel restrictions. For certain offenses, the court would be authorized to use electronic location monitoring.
Monetary bail and remand would continue to be authorized in other serious felony cases or in certain cases when an individual, while at liberty, commits another crime, violates an order of protection or repeatedly and willfully fails to return to court. In all cases, the court would be required to select the least restrictive alternative and conditions that would reasonably assure the defendant's appearance in court when required.
"Every year, thousands of New Yorkers are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because of unreasonably high bail and criteria set by private bail bonds that are impossible to meet for most minority families, but the time for change is upon us," said Assemblymember Latrice Walker, sponsor of the bill. "This bill would address the overreliance on financial resources that pervades our current system, and help reassure New Yorkers that in this state, justice is not for sale."
Grand Jury Transparency
Another measure passed today would increase transparency in grand jury proceedings when a court determines disclosure of certain information is in the public interest (A.9787, Mosley). The bill 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 is designed to build public confidence in our judicial system," said Assemblymember Walter Mosley, sponsor of the bill. "The current system is a very closed one that often seems secretive to the public and has the potential to breed distrust. New Yorkers need to have confidence that our judicial system is a fair one."
Reducing the Overuse of Solitary Confinement
The overuse of solitary confinement is dehumanizing, ineffective and fails to meet our primary objective of keeping people safe. Yet thousands of inmates in New York's prisons are keep in solitary confinement - up to twice as many as the national average. To address this injustice, the Assembly has passed legislation that would prohibit placement in segregated confinement of vulnerable inmates including those 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 (A.3080-B, Aubry). For all other inmates, the bill would enact strict limits on the use and duration of solitary confinement.
"The use of solitary confinement can cause permanent psychological, physical, developmental and social harm to inmates," said Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, sponsor of the bill. "Despite this, on any given day in New York, there are nearly 3,000 people, disproportionately people of color, in state prisons in Special Housing Units (SHU) and thousands more in other forms of isolation. This bill takes up the growing call to limit segregated confinement and provide more humane and effective alternatives."
Ending Discriminatory Practices
The Assembly also passed legislation today designed to end certain unfair and discriminatory practices. Under the bill, law enforcement officers would be prohibited from using racial or ethnic profiling during the performance of duties (A.4879, Bichotte). 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.
"The unconstitutional use of racial profiling has sewn distrust between people of color and law enforcement," said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, sponsor of the bill. "Despite numerous legal challenges, the practice is still used rampantly across the state. This legislation aims to explicitly prohibit this practice and establish a statewide database on the use of racial and ethnic profiling to provide transparency and promote law enforcement integrity."
Establishing a Special Prosecutor
To help instill greater confidence in our criminal justice system, the Assembly has passed legislation that would establish 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.
"It is critical that New Yorkers know that our judicial system is impartial and fair," said Assemblymember Nick Perry, sponsor of the bill. "This bill would help promote public confidence by eliminating secrecy in grand jury proceedings and removing potential conflicts of interest when civilians die during or after an interaction with law enforcement."
Last week, the Assembly passed legislation to reform New York's criminal discovery laws, prevent post-incarceration employment discrimination, require the sealing of low-level marijuana convictions for marijuana possession and provide greater transparency by requiring the collection of critical policing data from across the state for public reporting.
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." The Assembly also 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.
"For too long, our criminal justice system has favored the rich and punished the poor. Today, the Assembly put poor communities of color first by passing bail reform bill A.10137-A," said Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. "We thank Assemblywoman Walker for her leadership, and thank the Assembly Majority for advancing legislation to promote safety and justice, and to ensure that people can rejoin their families, their jobs, and their communities. No one should be in jail simply because they can't afford to buy their freedom. The Senate and Governor Cuomo must take immediate action to advance justice by passing this legislation and signing it into law."
"A fundamental tenet of our criminal justice system is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty," said Susan C. Bryant, acting director of the New York State Defenders Association. "Despite this, every year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are locked up before trial simply because they cannot afford cash bail, a situation that is unfair to poor and working class people. We commend the Assembly for its leadership on this important issue with the passage of the Walker Bail Reform Bill (A.10137A). This bill takes a major step towards reforming our criminal justice system, with the elimination of cash bail for most low-level crimes, and a fairer and more reasonable bail process for other crimes. We urge the Senate and Governor Cuomo to support this bill which advances the cause of equal justice by seeking to make pre-trial release the norm and pre-trial detention the exception."
Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder, said, "Now is the time to reform our criminal justice system and the NY State Assembly has taken a stand by passing bail reform bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker. These changes never take place overnight and they always require protracted struggles from families like mine who have been impacted by the system. We need the Senate and Governor Cuomo to take it the rest of the way."
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, said, "Brooklyn Defender Services applauds the New York State Assembly's passage of a robust package of criminal justice reforms today. The package will positively transform our current bail system, ensuring that tens of thousands of people are no longer detained pre-trial because they are too poor to afford bail. The package also includes comprehensive criminal discovery reform that will ensure that people accused of crimes have early and automatic access to the evidence in their cases, as is the law in most other states. We also commend the Assembly for passing the HALT Act to curtail the use of solitary confinement in our state's jails and prisons, a bill to prohibit law enforcement agencies from using racial or ethnic profiling during the performance of duties, legislation requiring the sealing of low-level marijuana convictions, and many other critical reforms. Today, the Assembly took a bold step towards making our criminal justice system more fair and transparent for all New Yorkers. We urge the Senate to pass and the Governor to sign this package into law immediately."
Laurie Parise, Executive Director, Youth Represent, said, "Youth Represent thanks the New York State Assembly for fighting for fairness, due process, and real justice in the criminal justice system. Today's reform package takes a critical steps towards reforming the system of imprisoning people simply because they are too poor to pay bail; substantially restricts the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails and prohibits its use for youth under 21; and creates vital mechanisms for law enforcement accountability. We urge the NYS Senate to pass and the Governor to sign this package into law."