Jail

New York Gov. Cuomo Proposes Positive Criminal Justice Reforms

Less pretrial jail, more forfeiture restrictions

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Andrew Cuomo
Jefferson Siegel/TNS/Newscom

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a new push for criminal justice reform in his state. If he gets his way, there will be fewer unnecessary pretrial detentions, fewer delays in bringing people to trial, and tighter restrictions on civil asset forfeiture.

Cuomo announced the reform effort as part of his state of the state address yesterday.

As always, the devil will be in the details. But Cuomo's list of proposals is certainly laudable on the basics. The biggest would be to eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and nonviolent felonies, replacing it with a pretrial system of freeing folks if they're not dangerous and keeping track of them to make sure they return to court.

In many states, a reliance on cash bail has led to an unbalanced environment where people languish in jail based on whether they can pay, not on whether they're a danger to their communities or a flight risk. The end result is that poor people charged with low-level crimes end up stuck in jail awaiting a court date. And they can end up waiting a very long time. Sometimes defendants end up pleading guilty just because they've essentially served their likely sentence while waiting for their trial. Simply being arrested for low-level crimes ends up being the equivalent of being convicted and sentenced.

New Jersey changed its pretrial system last year to all but eliminate cash bail and replace it with a risk-based assessment designed to determine who remains in jail and who is freed. This year we will see a legislative push for such a shift in California, where a similar effort stalled last year.

State-level bail reform may be the central criminal justice reform of 2018, particularly given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' lack of interest in federal reforms and given the new drug war panic sparked by opioid-related deaths.

In addition to the bail reform, Cuomo is proposing that police be banned from seizing your stuff unless you've actually been arrested. In other words, he's tackling civil asset forfeiture, where police and prosecutors are able to take and keep people's property without actually convicting you of a crime.

Disappointingly, Cuomo's proposal will not go as far as to require a conviction. But requiring an arrest will at least reduce some really abusive roadside stop forfeiture situations, where police pull a vehicle over, search it to see if the driver has lots of cash, and—if he does—declare that the driver must be involved with some sort of illegal drug activity and seize the money. Because they have no actual evidence, they don't actually arrest the suspect; they just take the cash. Then the owner has to fight in court to try to get his money back, essentially having prove his innocence.

Cuomo has also called for better disclosure of evidence between prosecutors and defense attorneys, and he wants to require that the defendants themselves (not just their lawyers) agree to waive the right to a speedy trial. He also hopes to remove some rules that ban people with criminal backgrounds from getting state licenses for various occupations outside of law enforcement fields, and he plans to stop the practice of suspending people's driver's licenses for drug convictions when the crimes did not involve driving.

The full list of Cuomo's proposed reforms can be read here. This is not the actual legislation itself, though, and he's going to have to battle police, prosecutors, and the bail bond industry to get this passed.

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  1. New Jersey changed its pretrial system last year to all but eliminate cash bail and replace it with a risk-based assessment designed to determine who remains in jail and who is freed.

    All it’s going to take is one Willy Horton and the screaming will be deafening. Better a hundred innocent men go to prison than one guilty man go free – and really, if they were innocent the cops wouldn’t have arrested them, right?

    1. Very astute comment. The reason that reforms are a long time coming is that a large majority of citizens want injustice. They feel safer that way.

    2. Very astute comment. The reason that reforms are a long time coming is that a large majority of citizens want injustice. They feel safer that way.

      1. Just because you’re always right doesn’t mean you have to rub it in.

  2. “tighter restrictions on civil asset forfeiture”

    All I see are tighter asses.
    (And an Atreides I want to kill)

  3. No, dear God, no. California did reform some of its laws with the worst being raising grand theft to $900. Now, just in my neighborhood: “My husband’s work truck was broken into…” “Someone rifled my car….” “Saw someone walk into the grocery and walk right out without paying….”

    Please, do not “reform” things any further.

  4. But requiring an arrest will at least reduce some really abusive roadside stop forfeiture situations, where police pull a vehicle over, search it to see if the driver has lots of cash, and?if he does?declare that the driver must be involved with some sort of illegal drug activity and seize the money.

    Sure, actually having to make an arrest they know won’t stick causes a lot more paperwork, but I think law enforcement will find the monetary gains well with the extra effort.

  5. Cuomo is proposing that police be banned from seizing your stuff unless you’ve actually been arrested.

    Uh, huh. Still unconstitutional.

  6. Boy, I bet you had to shift though a lot of Cuomo stupidity to get this one possible bright spot.

    1. sift

    2. “Our federal government is working to roll back so much of what we have done,”

      Because running one of the least attractive states in the country for businesses and residents is something to be proud of. As is being a hypocrite of the highest order:

      “New York State is upside down and backwards; high taxes and low performance. The New York State government was at one time a national model. Now, unfortunately, it’s a national disgrace. Sometimes, the corruption in Albany could even make Boss Tweed blush.”

      1. Somebody tell Donald Trump what a shithole New York is. He may want to relocate to Mississippi before he gets too senile to judge for himself.

        1. So what you’re implying is that you need to be a billionaire to live the good life in NYC.

          1. I just think people constantly trashing places like NY and California should explain why places like Alabama and Mississippi with their low taxes are such superior places to live.

            1. Wouldn’t it be easier to just look at internal migration numbers? People are leaving NY and CA in droves for places that are more affordable to live. What more explanation do you need?

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