Long-Awaited Public Defense Reform Comes to New York State

For decades, poor New Yorkers accused of crimes have been forced to rely on an overloaded and underfunded public defense system that has failed to provide the legal representation guaranteed to them under the Constitution. As a result, people in counties around the state have had only brief conversations with their lawyers, have not had their cases investigated, and have spent weeks or months in jail unnecessarily due to their attorneys’ inability to give their case the attention it deserves. Many have even pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit just to avoid spending more time locked in jail.

The problem is systemic and pervasive, and has led to countless people losing not only their liberty, but in many cases, losing their jobs, their homes, and their families along the way. In short, New York’s broken public defense system has devoured lives and fueled mass incarceration.

Last month, however, state lawmakers took a huge step towards ending this ongoing tragedy. Tucked into one of the state’s budget bills that passed last month was a measure that will dramatically reform public defense services statewide.

The new law authorizes the state’s Office of Indigent Legal Services to establish and uphold standards that address the presence of counsel at a criminal defendant’s first court appearance; reasonable limits on the caseloads public defense attorneys can carry; proper training, supervision, and support staff for attorneys; and access to resources needed to mount an effective defense.

While the legislation leaves responsibility for funding public defense operations with New York’s counties, the state will reimburse counties and cities for the cost of complying with these new standards. When the law is fully phased in by 2023, the state will spend about $250 million each year on public defense, which until now had been almost entirely the financial responsibility of New York’s counties.

Like the ACLU national office, and ACLU affiliates in states around the country—from Michigan to Idaho to Washington to Missouri, the New York Civil Liberties Union has been pushing for systemic public defense reform for more than a decade. The reforms here in New York arose in response to a settlement between the NYCLU, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, and New York state in the lawsuit Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. The settlement mandates reform of public defense services in Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk, and Washington counties.

The settlement inspired a bipartisan movement for reform last year but resulted in a New Year’s Eve veto by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. That legislation, which was actually passed unanimously by the Assembly and the Senate last year, would have required the state to fund all public defense services. When he vetoed the bill, the governor said such a proposal should be taken up during budget negotiations.

Undeterred by that setback, the NYCLU kept the pressure on lawmakers and the governor to finally get a deal done. State leaders felt the pressure and heard the message from their constituents that a broken public defense system has no place in the great state of New York. Our state is a fairer, more just place as a result.

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Vigilante

If they would let us be contentiousness vigilantes then the criminal wouldn't need a lawyer because he/she wouldn't be in prison. The old tree hanging would be in full effect for murders, child molesters, rapists and physical crimes against the person. They are lucky to be in prison.

Non-violent "criminals" are a different story and I feel for their cases.

Jay Borchert

This is a fantastic development if our goal is liberty and justice for ALL. We can with integrity ignore comments of the type we see above because they ignore the facts presented by right, left, bi-partisan, and non-partisan sources. Our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, particularly in its disproportionate effects upon the poor, people of color - basically those on the margins of our capitalist society. Great work, ACLU!

Jason Calderon

The first guy is right though, we are fighting for the average joes and Joannas who deserve the very same legal aid that any attorney is expected to provide in the best interest of client reguardless of ability to pay as the attorney still gets paid anyway, Just the same the as any attorney may choose to accept a case on his own discretion, it must apply here too, if we know we aren't going to work well or don't want to represent a killer, we should have that choice too.. Instead, innocent people, misdemeanor violators(which r not crimes) kids, and dmv and immigration offenders are incarcerated with the bloody cold hearted EVIL guilty ones, for whatever time short or long, returning with a scar on their history, because they participate in this wholesale brokerage of bondage of ,(mostly black and Hispanic peoples), which has become main function of the justice system, superceeding law order and justice, with a side of mercy for the redeemed... They also have no consideration for the collateral damages such as the housewives and kids deprived of a provider, father, husband and mate.. Then we wonder why certain groups act out, and or end up reliant on entitlements...

Jason Calderon

The first guy is right though, we are fighting for the average joes and Joannas who deserve the very same legal aid that any attorney is expected to provide in the best interest of client reguardless of ability to pay as the attorney still gets paid anyway, Just the same the as any attorney may choose to accept a case on his own discretion, it must apply here too, if we know we aren't going to work well or don't want to represent a killer, we should have that choice to represent or not.. Instead, innocent people, misdemeanor violators(which r not crimes), kids, and dmv and immigration offenders are incarcerated with the same bloody cold hearted EVIL guilty ones, for whatever time short or long, returning with a scar on their history, because the public defenders treat thier cases with no dignity and only diligence in the prosecution best interest and participate in this wholesale brokerage of bondage of ,(mostly black and Hispanic peoples), which has become main function of the justice system, superceeding law order and justice, with a side of mercy for the redeemed... They also have no consideration for the collateral damages such as the housewives and kids deprived of a provider, father, husband and mate.. Then we wonder why certain groups act out, and or end up reliant on entitlements...

Anonymous

This is a fantastic development if our goal is liberty and justice for ALL. We can with integrity ignore comments of the type we see above because they ignore the facts presented by right, left, bi-partisan, and non-partisan sources. http://kodidownloadz.com/

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