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Editorial: Pretrial reform long overdue

Editorial: Pretrial reform long overdue

Bail reform, discovery reform, speedy trial reform all part of broad package for improving justice system

There’s no question New York needs to upgrade and reform its judicial process when it comes to how it deals with suspects before trial.

Too many New Yorkers, many of them poor, spend too much time in jail awaiting trial, unable to make bail, often on minor non-violent charges.

It’s easy to find a story of some kid charge with shoplifting or other minor crime, sitting in a dirty, dangerous jail cell for weeks or months, awaiting a court hearing or trying to scrape up scraps for bail money. There are literally thousands of these cases pending right now.

These fundamental flaws in the system cost these individuals. They cost their families. And they cost the taxpayers of New York in unnecessary incarceration expenses and lengthy legal procedures.

Bail reform has gotten the most attention, in part because it makes some people uneasy. But eliminating cash bail has proven to work well for defendants and society when applied fairly.

But pretrail reform in New York has two other elements that are equally important and which lawmakers must give equal consideration and thought in the upcoming legislative session.

One is discovery reform and the other is speedy trial reform.

A discovery reform bill in the state Senate (S7722) would reform New York’s discovery rules to ensure criminal defendants receive information about their cases more quickly and completely.

Often the information that’s withheld is information that might clear the suspect or at least strengthen the defense. Defense lawyers need this information to decide whether to move forward or to assess their position in plea bargains. The current system is not only unfair, but it’s expensive and inefficient

This bill, among other things, would establish automatic discovery for criminal court proceedings and make attorneys accountable for any efforts to withhold, disguise or delay the sharing of evidence.

A comprehensive speedy trial reform bill (S7006) would ensure that criminal cases go to trial in a reasonable amount of time so defendants don’t spend too much time in jail while awaiting trial.

“Kalief’s Law” would put more controls in place to ensure prosecutors can’t unnecessarily delay trial without justification. It’s named after a 16-year-old who spent three years Riker’s Island awaiting trial for stealing a backpack. After his release, he killed himself.

Any one of us, or any one of our children or friends and relatives, could one day find ourselves in the criminal court system. We’d want to be treated fairly and have our cases processed expeditiously. 

Right now, not everyone who enters the system receives that treatment.

Reform is long overdue.

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