New York State's New Budget Brings Crucial Reforms

(NEW YORK, NY) – Janet Sabel, CEO and Attorney-In-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, released the following statement responding to Legislature passing the New York State Fiscal Year 2020 budget:

“There is no denying that many of the budget measures passed by the State Legislature mark a significant change towards a fairer justice system for our clients and others across New York.

The criminal discovery and speedy trial reforms will end the gamesmanship and power dynamics that have favored prosecutors for decades, resulting in thousands of coerced pleas and wrongful convictions. These monumental changes, decades in the making, will truly save lives and begin to restore faith in our justice system. As for the reforms to bail, we echo the sentiments of many in the Legislature, including the Speaker, that this bill ultimately does not go far enough. We wholeheartedly hail the decision not to cave to law enforcement by introducing racially biased dangerousness determinations into our statute, and we applaud that, under the new provisions, many people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies will be returned to their families and communities without having to buy their freedom. However, we are holding Legislators to their promise to end cash bail for all offenses in New York State, and to fully legalize marijuana this year without any more delay.  

For our immigrant clients, Albany’s decision to advance much-needed legislation that would reduce the maximum sentence for Class A misdemeanors from one year to 364 days will have a tremendous beneficial impact on the thousands of New Yorkers born outside of the country. Currently, a 1-year sentence – or even the possibility of one – can trigger serious adverse immigration consequences, including mandatory detention in certain cases. The passing of this measure will strengthen New York’s resolve as a sanctuary state.

The Legal Aid Society thanks Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for moving the State forward on these core issues that affect so many of our clients.

Lastly, despite the historic reforms on criminal justice issues, we are disappointed that Albany failed to tackle with the same seriousness the myriad of housing issues faced by our clients. Resources to address the widespread capital needs of the New York City Housing Authority are lacking, and Home Stability Support – a program that would protect thousands of tenants from eviction and homelessness – remain unfunded. We will continue to raise these issues for the rest of session, alongside other critical housing matters that Albany must face before adjourning for the year in late June.”

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