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Legislature Urges Changes in State Criminal Justice Reform

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Legislature Urges Changes in State Criminal Justice Reform

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Tompkins County Legislature is calling upon New York State to make needed changes to implement the State’s sweeping new criminal justice reform measures, as of January 1st.  While indicating general support of the principles behind the new measures, the detailed, four-page resolution, adopted by unanimous vote, also maintains that much needs to be done to implement the reforms effectively—including providing additional guidance to judges, and technical assistance and financial support to counties.  (Legislators Deborah Dawson and Dave McKenna were excused.)

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 cites ten specific improvements that should be implemented as soon as possible—such as providing additional comprehensive guidance to judges, providing technical assistance, as requested, to counties regarding alternatives to incarceration development, and repealing the discovery mandates for most Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions.