The Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem issued a joint letter to New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein today calling on the Legislature to immediately advance key criminal justice reforms – bail, discovery, and speedy trial – that were not addressed in this year’s State budget negotiations.
The letter states:
For decades, New York State’s antiquated and outmoded laws on these key issues have undermined the presumption of innocence, led to mass incarceration, allowed intolerable court delays, and enabled wrongful convictions.
Pretrial justice reform is not a marginal issue anymore. Recent polling made clear that overwhelming numbers of New Yorkers support overhauling each of these laws. In March 2018, a FWD.us poll found that more than 70 percent of those surveyed supported the elimination of pretrial detention in most cases. On speedy trial, 90 percent support setting a firm speedy trial requirement to prevent people from being held in jail for months or years awaiting trial. More than three quarters of those polled supported open discovery to allow defendants the opportunity to see all available evidence before taking a plea. As you know, our current discovery laws – among the most restrictive in the county – allow prosecutors to withhold critical evidence until the eve of trial; as a result people routinely enter pleas without knowing the evidence against them.
The time for meaningful reform has come. Impacted communities and the greater public – your constituents – now recognize the profound injustices that Albany has permitted to exist for decades, while other states have taken action to fix the problems. We need genuine change, and we need it this year.
There are proposals in each chamber that would bring about the overhauls needed for fair and efficient bail, speedy trial and early discovery laws. We implore the Legislature to work with the Governor and to pass meaningful pretrial justice reforms before session concludes in June, and we will continue to ceaselessly advocate on these issues in all forums. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned at their respective organizations.