Criminal Justice Reform in New York: What to Expect in 2020?

Sweeping criminal justice reforms are coming to New York this year.

Starting January 1, 2020, change is coming for the city's prosecutors and police that will force them to adjust their current practices. Here are some of the significant changes made on the criminal justice system to look out for.

Bail Reform

New state legislature on bail reform aims to reduce the number of people held in jail and the amount of time the system can keep them. People have been languishing in prisons such as Riker's Island and other facilities for years while waiting for their day in court. This new bill will put a stop to all that.

Here's what to expect under the new bail reform laws:

  • Eliminates bail for misdemeanors except for cases where someone violates a prosecution order and sex crimes.
  • Bars remands for misdemeanors.
  • Eliminates partial detention and bail for most non-violent felonies except for terror cases, murder conspiracy, sex crimes, crimes against children, witness tampering, and domestic violence cases.
  • Allows pretrial detention and bail for violent felonies except for specific robbery and burglary charges.
  • Eliminates bail and detention for all "class A" drug felonies, except for major drug trafficking.

Under the new law, The Center for Court Innovation is estimating that only 10% of New York's 250,000 criminal cases in 2018 would be eligible for bail and detention.

New Discovery Rules

January 2020 will see another set of reforms take effect, coming in the form of changes to discovery rules. The new law addresses the long-held issue that law enforcement wielded an unfair advantage in prosecutions.

The new discovery reform law will have far-reaching effects on the justice system, including:

  • Grand Jury proceedings will not be a secret anymore.
  • Prosecutors have only 15 days to turn over their evidence to the defense counsel after an arraignment. However, there are exceptions to the rule and a provision that extends the handling of evidence to 30 days.
  • The defense counsel will get the names and contact information of any person who has relevant information about a case, including the names of all police officers involved or assigned to the case.
  • The defense has access to the name and contact details of every witness, along with their statements.
  • The new law also gives the defense access to all witnesses, even those whom the prosecutor doesn't plan to call to the stand.
  • Criminal defense attorneys are also entitled to all electronic recordings.
  • The prosecution has three days to reveal their evidence against the accused before a plea deal expires.
  • Delays in evidence submitted by the police are no longer considered an excuse for prosecutors to provide material to the defense.
  • If the prosecution wants to introduce evidence over a crime, they need to turn it over to the defense 15 days before the trial begins.
  • The defense counsel has 30 days to turn over its case to the state.
  • Prosecutors can ask the judge for a protective order when the case is sensitive, but they have to show a good reason for the request. The court must then hold a hearing within three days of the application and submit its ruling.

The new law will also allow defendants access to the crime scene so they can build their defense. Because of this new stipulation, the court can order that the crime scene remain unchanged until after the defendant visits it.

Why is Criminal Justice and Prison Reform Important for New York and America as a Whole?

The flawed American justice system allowed the prison population to grow out of control since 1978, and the situation has reached a state of diminishing returns. There are currently 1.5 million individuals incarcerated in facilities all across the nation, even though crime rates have decreased since the 1990s. For instance, Arizona has the 8th highest incarceration rate in the world, incarcerating 877 people per 100 residents. With 42,562 men and women in prisons across the state, it could take someone doing an Arizona inmate search hours to find a loved one.

The steps taken by New York and other progressive states highlights the need for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice and prison systems, to make sure prisons are not overcrowded and that inmates have a better chance of reintegration when they get out. Changes must be made for a more effective justice system that prioritizes public safety and respects the human dignity of inmates.


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