Major changes in New York’s criminal law, backed by Governor Cuomo and passed by the state legislature in 2019, took effect in 2020, and local and state governments are still debating how those changes will affect criminal law enforcers and defendants.
Here’s a quick summary of changes the new law made as of January 1, 2020.
Criminal Law Procedures:
For lower-level offenses (those below Class E felonies), the new law generally reduces the number of arrested people that must be held in custody until arraignment by a Judge. That will result in police issuing more Desk Appearance Tickets. That will eliminate most defendants being brought to a police precinct, processed by central bookings, and arraigned in a courthouse, which can all consume up to a full day before the arrested person sees a judge.
But major exceptions to this new rule apply when a criminal charge involved domestic violence, a sex offense, crimes where a court might revoke a driver’s license or issue a protective order, or if the charged offender has outstanding warrants or failed to appear as ordered in court within the past two years. Exceptions also apply if accused persons cannot or will not verify their identity, or who an arresting officer believes may benefit from medical or mental health care.
A two-thirds majority of New Yorkers in jail haven’t been convicted of crimes, but instead couldn’t post bail bonds for pre-trial release. Proponents of curbing money bail bonds argue this disproportionately hurts the poor and minority group residents. The new law aims to make money bonding far less common, by eliminating pre-trial detention and money bail for almost all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. This includes Class A drug felonies (but not for major trafficking).
Pre-trial detention and bail will not be eliminated for domestic violence, sex crimes, crimes against children, murder conspiracies, terrorism, and witness tampering. And detention and bail won’t be allowed for certain robbery and burglary offenses. Even where bonding is permitted, judges must consider more affordable alternatives. For-profit organizations are forbidden to carry out pre-trial monitoring or supervision services.
Until the new law, New York did not require prosecutors to turn over to defendants basic evidence like police reports and witness statements. The new law gives prosecutors at most 15 days after arraignment to turn over key evidence to defendants (though in some cases a 30-day extension or protective orders are possible), gives access to grand jury evidence if the defendant appears there, requires complete discovery before withdrawing plea offers,
The new discovery rules make prosecutors responsible for obtaining and sharing evidence from all relevant law enforcement agencies, including electronic forms, such as 911 calls and body camera footage. Lawyers for criminal defendants also have a similar obligation to turn over to prosecutors their key evidence before trial, although their deadline is 30 days, rather than prosecutors’ 15 days.
The new law directs judges to carefully examine prosecutors’ “ready for trial” statements and adopts other provisions (including penalties for non-compliance with discovery deadlines) intended to prevent defendants from having their cases repeatedly delayed, which can extend time defendants spend in pre-trial detention.
About the Author
Scott J. Limmer is a New York criminal attorney practicing primarily in Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties. You can contact Scott anytime. He is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round and your initial consultation is free.