Criminal Justice

New York Is Ringing In the New Year With Major Criminal Justice Reforms

Less dependence on bail and stronger requirements for evidence sharing will help defendants fight charges.


New York State will kick off 2020 by implementing reforms that allow some criminal defendants to remain free during trial, as well as require prosecutors to turn over evidence to the defense earlier in the case. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the reforms part of his budget plans for 2019.

Cash bail will no longer be demanded from people charged with misdemeanors in New York (exceptions: misdemeanor sex offenses and protection order violations in domestic violence cases), and pretrial detentions for those defendants are eliminated. Money bail will be eliminated for most non-violent felonies, with exceptions related to witness intimidation, crimes toward children, and other high-risk cases. Money bail will still be permitted for most violent felonies.

When a judge does demand money bail, he or she will be required to consider the defendant's financial resources and provide several choices. The goal here is to prevent defendants from being stuck behind bars simply because they don't have money for bail, and to reserve pre-trial detention for defendants who may commit additional crimes as their cases wind through the courts.

In the event that a judge does deem a defendant to be a flight risk, the judge can set a number of restrictions on release, including electronic monitoring for more serious charges. (Read more about the new bail rules here.)

These reforms are more modest than what's been adopted in New Jersey, where cash bail has been almost completely eliminated. Under the new guidelines, according to the Center for Court Innovation, only about 10 percent of defendants arraigned for crimes in New York City in 2018 would have been subjected to cash bail demands.

The criminal justice system tends to apply pressure on defendants to get them to plead guilty without the hassle of a trial. Cash bail is one of those mechanisms—a defendant who cannot afford bail for a minor crime is much more likely to accept a guilty plea. Studies show that defendants who are unable to make bail end up with harsher sentences and less hospitable plea deals than those who are able to fight from the outside.

The other major reform concerns the discovery process. In New York, pretrial discovery has been a thorn in the side of defense attorneys for years, allowing prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense until the last possible moment. (New York has some of the most restrictive discovery rules in the nation.)

With the start of 2020, new discovery rules require prosecutors to hand over much more evidence—including grand jury testimony and police reports—to the defense within 15 days of arraignment. The new discovery rules require that a defendant have three days to look over the evidence presented against him or her before accepting a prosecutor's plea offer. The new rule also contains a continued duty to disclose and share evidence that either party uncovers during an investigation and trial.

These "new" rules are similar to discovery regulations in the rest of the country already. New York residents may look down on southern states like North Carolina and Texas as having more punitive courts and judges willing to throw the book at defendants, but those states have already made these reforms. It's New York that's lagging behind. And state prosecutors have been fighting these reforms for decades.

Prosecutors who withhold evidence have the upper hand with defendants who are offered plea deals without fully understanding the strength of the case against them. The pressure of case bail and state-friendly discovery rules have contributed to 98 percent of all felony convictions in New York being obtained via plea deal.

Police and prosecutors have voiced their concerns about how this system will work, particularly on the bail front. While New York is eliminating most forms of cash bail, it is not implementing the significant, statewide pretrial monitoring reforms that New Jersey put into place. Each county will have to figure out its own plans.

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  1. New York:
    MORE taxpayer money to create laws.
    MORE taxpayer money to create regulations.
    MORE taxpayer money for lawyers to fight criminal laws.
    MORE taxpayer money for jails, cops, and guards.

    Simpler and cheaper solution is to gut the NY State state budget and repeal most laws.

    1. Many of our resources have indeed been poorly allocated, and should be redirected towards a concerted effort to stamp out any illegal “parodies” that impinge upon the reputations of ]faculty members here at NYU or elsewhere in the city. There is ample precedent for such an effort; see the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

      On the other hand, these new “reforms” will simply result in increased violence, theft, and an assortment of prurient manifestations of discontent, as criminal elements are released from the jails and come into our neighborhoods. That “parodists” may be among them is a cause for special concern. Here at NYU, we will continue to work with law enforcement authorities to guarantee as much safety as possible for faculty members and for the public at large during the difficult months ahead.

  2. So, without a cash bond requirement, are suspected criminals still arrested and booked? Or instead are they given an appearance citation? I’ve heard both, even for things such as petty and grand theft.

    I do read in the article that pretrial detention is going to be eliminated, which makes me suspect that citations are going to be the way this will go. Why arrest the guy, take him to jail, book him, if you’re just going to let him go anyway? Which then leads to, or it least it has in CA, why arrest the guy, if all you’re going to do is cite him… At least NYC’s official crime numbers should drop, as there won’t be any reported crime if the cops discourage filing reports or making arrests.

    Enjoy your explosion in property crimes, New Yorkers.

    Goddamnit, we went through the 70s already. We know how this story ends. Why in hell are we sitting down to watch the same movie again?

    1. New York citizens keep electing democrats.
      Ain’t nothing gonna change – – – – –

  3. This sounds like a useful way to evade the constitutional ban on excessive bail.

    “We haven’t imposed excessive bail – we haven’t imposed bail at all!”

    So based on a weighing of relevant factors, the deem the person a flight risk who doesn’t deserve bail so they hold him without bail. The feds already do this, why not the states?

    1. 8th Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

      The problem is bail has been denied for decades for reasons that are not listed as exceptions to the 8th Amendment.

      Everyone arrested for a crime (which requires a warrant as per the 4A), has the right to non-excessive bail, assistance of counsel, right to speedy and public jury trial at the minimum.

      There are no flight risk exceptions or serious crime exceptions or threat to victim exceptions. Every defendant is entitled to non-excessive bail. If they dont show up for court, arrest them and then set a new non-excessive bail amount.

      Or here’s a thought, if there were less crimes, then violent defendants could be tried in a speedy manner because police and prosecutors could focus on those crimes.

      1. I don’t need convincing, but the authorities don’t seem to agree with me or you.

        1. I know but it only helps to keep repeating it and serve on juries to acquit these defendants.

      2. “Or here’s a thought, if there were less crimes, then violent defendants could be tried in a speedy manner because police and prosecutors could focus on those crimes.”


  4. “New York State will kick off 2020 by implementing reforms that allow some criminal defendants to remain free during trial”

    Is he talking unequal treatment by the law based upon discrimination such as wealth or race ?

  5. We need to get the crooks out of the jails to make room for the damn Trump supporters we are going to lock up.

    1. Why waste money on incarcerating the clingers? Better to let the decay continue in their communities (bright flight, addictions, dysfunction), churches (reason, modernity), and jobs (technology, markets) — without government subsidies to try to prop them up — until the dead-enders reach replacement, at which point it is ‘problem solved.’

      1. How do you stop them from simply spending their bored existence giving birth to more wards of the state?

      2. So, in other words, do what this country has been doing about Detroit?

    2. We used to do worse to fascists.

      1. Put them to work in our space program?

        1. Maybe let’s not put your average Trump Bubba in that particular role.

  6. ergo, more crime. super

  7. Misdaemeanor sex crimes? So the John at the Asian Rub & Tug has to go thru a bail hearing, but the strong armed robber does not?

    1. To quote ol’ Billy Jeff, that depends on what the definition of ‘most violent felonies.’ is.

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