New York Makes Major Changes to Criminal Justice System
The New York State Legislature will be enacting new criminal justice reforms, beginning January, 2020, that will bring long overdue, sweeping, and historic changes to the way criminal defense is practiced. There is so much to discuss, that I will be breaking it down over the course of the next few days into several specific articles.
There will be a sea change in the rules of discovery in criminal cases, which have been all but a joke in New York State. Looking at the new discovery rules set to begin in 2020, those days are over. Nearly everything people assume that defense lawyers have access to but don’t under current rules, will now be required to be turned over to the defense shortly after a criminal case is brought.
New York is all but eliminating cash bail in most cases, and will be requiring Desk Appearance Tickets in nearly all eligible cases, including low level felony cases. Bail in low level misdemeanor cases in counties like Nassau and Westchester is quite common now. That will stop in 2020.
In a serious, but also sort of hilarious move, NY has taken the seemingly strange step of redefining the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor in NY to 364 days instead of one year. This seemingly minor change of one day represents an enormous victory for non citizens accused of minor offenses. Many years ago, the Federal Government defined “aggravated felony” (a type of offense that can result in deportation for a person convicted) to be an offense punishable by one year or more. The Federal Government did this to take advantage of the fact that most states simply defined misdemeanor offenses to have a maximum of one year punishment. This was by longstanding common law tradition and not really meant to have any significance. Few people ever actually received one year in jail for such misdemeanor offenses. By defining “aggravated felony” to be a crime for which one year or more could be received as punishment, then, the Federal Government was able to make countless minor state offenses convictions that could result in the extreme outcome of deportation. By now backing the definition of misdemeanor just one day, to 364 days, all of those minor offenses in New York are no longer “aggravated felonies”. New York has beaten the Federal Government at its own game.
Stay tuned for more detailed articles about the individual pieces of this historic legislation.