Justice figurine in front of books belonging to a New York criminal defense lawyer

The New York State legislature recently passed sweeping reforms to the operation of the state’s criminal justice system. Those reforms, which become effective in January 2020, will profoundly transform how criminal cases are litigated in the state. Among other things, cash bail has been eliminated for most offenses (keeping more people out of jail as they await trial), defendants are to be given greater access to the evidence prosecutors have collected against them (and access to that evidence sooner), and some of the impediments to speedy trials have been eliminated (requiring prosecutors to truly be ready for trial when they announce themselves as ready for trial).

At Protass Law PLLC, we welcome these reforms because they will further empower our capacity for zealous and vigorous defense of our clients’ rights and interests. If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, a New York criminal defense lawyer can help. To schedule a free consultation of your case, contact us today at (212) 455-0335.

What Criminal Justice Reforms Did New York’s Legislature Just Pass?

New York’s criminal justice reforms will affect criminal cases in a number of respects in several different areas, including:

Elimination of Cash Bail

New York is the third state in the country to eliminate the cash bail system for most offenses. Starting in 2020, you can only be held on bail for violent felonies, sex offenses, and violations of domestic violence orders. When courts set bail in these types of cases, they will have to consider your ability to pay and any undue hardship that that amount may cause. Courts will also need to make a record of the reasoning underlying any bail decision. To ensure that people appear for future court dates (which was the purpose for bail), New York will expand the use of electronic monitoring, but defendants will not have to pay for it.

Better Access to Discovery

Discovery is the process by which defense lawyers obtain the evidence that prosecutors have collected against their clients. Today, New York law makes it difficult for defense lawyers to obtain that evidence until right before the trial, which often doesn’t leave enough time to adequately prepare for trial. Going forward, though, prosecutors will be required to give defense lawyers “all items and information that relate to the subject matter of the case” that they have. And they will be required to do so not later than 15 calendar days after arraignment on any accusatory instrument. Among other things, the defense will get access to witness statements, grand jury minutes, information about all potential witnesses, and evidence that tends to show the defendant is not guilty (commonly known as Brady material). People facing felony charges will receive a copy of their statements to the police at least 48 hours before they testify at any grand jury hearing (if they choose to testify). And, in all cases, defendants will be entitled to full discovery before accepting or declining a plea deal.

Strengthening the Right to a Speedy Trial

The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the Constitution. But, in New York, cases have been known to drag on for years. The criminal justice reforms that will go into effect in 2020 contain new rules that close the loopholes that enabled prosecutors to delay the preparation of their cases for trial. Misdemeanor cases must be ready for trial within 90 days of arraignment, and felony cases must be prepared within six months. Also, prosecutors previously were able to claim that they were ready for trial on some, but not all, counts in an indictment, thereby getting an unfair extension on the speedy trial “clock.” Going forward prosecutors will no longer be allowed to claim a case is partially ready for trial. Furthermore, defense lawyers will be able to make speedy trial motions orally, which saves time and money for their clients. Finally, pleading guilty no longer means that you waive the right to appeal any legal issue that might have affected your right to a speedy trial.

Improving Prosecutorial Integrity

New York’s new reforms will result in the creation of a special state commission to investigate allegations of misconduct against local prosecutors. This commission will have the authority to punish offending prosecutors, including removal from office. This highly controversial reform is likely to be challenged in the courts. Indeed, one of the state’s top prosecutors, David Soares, called the move to create a prosecutorial integrity commission “another political stunt, with no hope of surviving judicial scrutiny.”

Taken together, these reforms will greatly enhance the prospects of anyone facing criminal charges in New York. Less people will spend less time in jail while awaiting trial, and virtually all will be in a better position to defend against the charges lodged against them. Perhaps most importantly, most people will spend less money on the defense of their case, which is a significant step forward in a justice system where people of limited financial means are at a distinct disadvantage.

How a New York Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

Until these reforms go into effect, criminal cases will be fought the old way. With defendants placed at a disadvantage within the justice system, the assistance of a highly experienced attorney is a necessity. At Protass Law PLLC, we’ve earned a reputation for excellence by vigorously fighting on behalf of our clients’ interests. To schedule a free and confidential evaluation of your case, contact us today at (212) 455-0335.