ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed multiple criminal justice reforms aimed at revamping decades-old procedures and improving access to justice, regardless of defendants’ economic status.
The proposals cover reforms to the bail system, defendants’ access to important information, the speed of the legal process, asset seizures and community re-entry.
The bail proposal would eliminate monetary bail for those facing misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and would move up disclosure requirements that often lead to stacks of paperwork being handed over just as a trial begins.
“We will be the state of law and order but also the state of compassion and common sense,” Cuomo said. “We will work to improve the justice system and end racial and resource inequities.”
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Cuomo also proposed legislation to reduce unnecessary delays and adjournments by requiring defendants — not just their attorneys — to specifically consent to speedy trial waivers.
A ban on asset seizures, unless an arrest is made, was also proposed, as were improvements to reporting requirements when assets are seized. In cases of acquittals, assets would be returned, under Cuomo’s proposal.
Schenectady County Public Defender Stephen Signore praised some of Cuomo’s ideas but he said others didn’t go far enough.
“It still needs work,” he said, “but it’s a good start.”
The bail provisions, Signore said, would make meeting with clients easier and allow for better trial preparation.
Defendants held on small-sum bails they cannot post has been an issue in Schenectady and elsewhere.
The Daily Gazette reported in 2015 that, over the previous two years, 46 people spent at least three weeks in the Schenectady County jail because they could not afford bail of $1,000 or less.
Cuomo proposed replacing monetary bail with either straight release or with certain release conditions, like supervision.
“I like the approach to bail,” Signore said of the proposal. “That’s going to help a lot.”
Regarding when the defense gets important information, Signore said he would like to see a definitive time frame ahead of trial. What he read about Cuomo’s proposal did not include that.
Cuomo’s plan would require prosecutors and defense attorneys to share information incrementally before trial.
Without that information, Signore said, it is difficult to make decisions about whether to go to trial and to prepare for trial itself.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said he couldn’t comment on the proposals Wednesday evening because he had yet to review them.
New York State Bar Association President Sharon Stern Gerstman issued a statement in response to the proposals.
“The New York State Bar Association supports a range of measures to amend the Criminal Procedure Law to modernize the defendant’s right to discovery in criminal justice matters and make the process fairer for all defendants,” Gerstman’s statement reads. “We look forward to seeing all of the legislation on criminal justice reform that will enact the Governor’s proposals outlined in today’s State of the State address, and working with the Governor and the Legislature to enact much-needed reform in this area.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union praised the proposals. The bail and information access proposals should help reduce mass incarceration, NYCLU said in a prepared statement.
“While Washington reprises a failed ‘law and order’ agenda, the governor is showing New York can lead in the quest for justice,” the statement read.