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Legislature Asked to Urge Changes Regarding New York State Criminal Justice Reform

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Legislature Asked to Urge Changes Regarding New York State Criminal Justice Reform

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Tompkins County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee today passed and advanced to the full Legislature a detailed four-page proposed resolution that would call upon New York State to make needed changes to implement the State’s sweeping new criminal justice reform measures, as of January 1st

The measure indicates the County’s general support of the principles behind criminal justice reform, but also that much needs to be done to put the reforms in place in an effective manner—including providing additional guidance to judges, as well as technical assistance and financial support to counties related to implementation of the new requirements.

As part of the reforms amending the State’s criminal procedure rules, people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies will in most cases be released without cash bail, pending trial; and with pre-trial discovery reform, prosecutors will be required to disclose evidence to the defense within 15 days of arraignment for an indictment or criminal charge, or issuance of an appearance ticket.

The resolution, in part, indicates that Tompkins County (subject to comments made in the document) supports the amendment to bail requirements and increased use of pretrial release to attempt to reduce the negative impacts of the bail system on people of limited financial resources, but it also describes judicial discretion as “an essential tool in allowing our judicial system to function.”  The document recognizes the need for discovery reform and the County’s long-time support of State efforts to do so, as also reflected in our District Attorney’s local policies and practices.  But it also indicates that much needs to be done regarding internal systems, improvements, and case management to effectively carry forth those reforms.

The measure approved by the Committee cites the following specific improvements to the new laws that should be implemented as soon as possible:

1. Provide judges with additional comprehensive guidance necessary for implementation of the new rules on pre-trial release of defendants as enumerated in this resolution;

2. Provide judges with additional comprehensive guidance necessary for implementation of the new rules on the release of discovery materials to defendants as enumerated in this resolution;

3. Provide technical assistance as requested from counties that wish to implement and/or expand alternatives to incarceration and pre-trial supervision programs necessary to the goal of successful bail reform;

4. Provide New York State financial support to counties that wish to implement and/or expand alternatives to incarceration and pre-trial supervision programs necessary to the goal of successful bail reform;

5. Repeal the provision that makes the new discovery mandates applicable to Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions (excluding violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192 and other Vehicle and Traffic Law misdemeanors);

6.  Provide technical assistance as requested from counties that wish to implement and/or expand electronic evidence management systems necessary to the goal of successful criminal discovery reform;

7. Provide New York State financial support to counties that wish to implement and/or expand electronic evidence management systems necessary to the goal of successful criminal discovery reform;

8. Provide specific instruction to local criminal courts that for a six month period after commencement of the changes to the criminal discovery laws, such courts may show leniency in the application of the deadlines for a prosecutor that is acting in good faith to comply in general, and in the particular case, with the new discovery rules, with such determination taking into account the steps underway to install and train personnel on new processes, systems, and procedures for the management of evidence in criminal cases;

9. Where leniency has been shown to a prosecutor in providing discovery materials to the defense and this has impacted the defense review and investigation of a case, leniency should also be shown during this six month period for provision of discovery provided by the defense that was impacted by slow or late discovery from the prosecutor.

10.  The State Commission of Corrections must revise the minimum staffing requirement for each local correctional facility upon implementation of this legislation to adjust for expected reductions in local jail census.

The resolution is scheduled for consideration by the full Legislature December 3.