NYCLU Applauds Assembly for Passing Historic Public Defense Reform Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
June 3, 2016 11:45 am

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The New York State Assembly today passed, with overwhelming support, the Public Defense Mandate Relief Act (A6202-C), a historic bill designed to fundamentally reform public defense services statewide. The New York Civil Liberties Union is one of the groups that has been advocating for passage of the bill.

“We applaud the Assembly for moving New York a step closer to major reform of the criminal justice system,” said Robert Perry, legislative director at the NYCLU. “The constitutional right to a competent lawyer should not be an empty promise. We urge the Senate to pass this bill immediately so that counties and public defenders have the resources they need to ensure equal justice for all New Yorkers in all counties.”

The Public Defense Mandate Relief Act, introduced by Assembly Member Pat Fahy, will transfer the responsibility for funding of public defense from the counties to the state over a seven-year period, and will authorize the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to establish and uphold standards to ensure that poor people accused of crimes are given effective legal representation when they cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

This bill is based on a 2014 settlement agreement of litigation between the NYCLU and New York State that required the state to improve public defense services in five counties named in the lawsuit Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. The lawsuit also demonstrated that the failure to provide public defense is widespread in New York, and if passed, this bill will extend public defense reforms to all counties in the state. The bill awaits a vote in the state Senate Finance Committee, where it is sponsored by Sen. John DeFrancisco.

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