Governor Signs Indigent Criminal Defense Bill by Cruz and Bailey into Law

New law will provide a defendant with a continued poor person relief when appealing their case, expands this right to any eligible defendant in a criminal action

Albany, NY State Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz today announced that Governor Kathy Hochul signed significant legislation expanding the rights of criminal defendants as they seek to appeal their sentencing.

The legislation (A.5689/S.1279) streamlines the assignment of appellate counsel for indigent criminal defendants appealing their convictions in order to save time, money and resources to provide enhanced access to justice for vulnerable individuals. According to Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, member of the Assembly Standing Committee on the Judiciary, “This inconsistency has forced otherwise eligible defendants to reapply for poor persons’ relief, which may confuse the defendant, delay timing on the appeal process, and ultimately reduce judicial efficiency.” She continued, “Additionally, this process of relief application for an appeal is used in other areas of the law, such as in Family Court and civil court matters. By having their counsel provide a sworn statement that the defendant is still eligible, this process can be expedited and provide the defendant with continued legal assistance for the purpose of an appeal.”

According to State Senator Jamaal T. Bailey, Chair of the Senate Codes Committee, “For too long, the cumbersome process of obtaining appellate counsel for indigent criminal defendants appealing their convictions has impeded access to justice for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our court system. Defendants who already demonstrated their eligibility for legal counsel should not be made to go through confusing administrative hurdles merely because they seek to exercise their right to appeal – an inconsistency that ultimately results in individuals being denied a fair process. Today, I stand side-by-side with Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz in applauding the signing of this crucial piece of legislation to streamline the current application process and protect and expand the right to appeal.”

For an indigent defendant, the right to counsel is a basic tenet of our criminal justice system. But before this law, indigent criminal defendants were at risk of losing their right to appeal simply because of a cumbersome system that made it too difficult for them to apply for an attorney. This new law eliminates needless bureaucracy and restores equity to the appeals process,” said T. Andrew Brown, president of the New York State Bar Association.

“This new law will not only lead to gains in efficiency in the criminal justice system, it will also ensure that extremely vulnerable people – indigent people convicted of crimes – are not denied their constitutional right to appeal merely because they are poor. We applaud the bill’s enactment,” stated, Tess M. Cohen, Chair, New York City Bar Association Criminal Justice Operations Committee.

This law will take effect in 60 days.