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Additional Reforms in the NY Criminal Justice System

April 17, 2019

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

As discussed in last week’s blog, the legislature recently passed sweeping bail and discovery reforms. There are also several other reforms taking place. Here, we discuss a few more of the changes to New York’s criminal justice system.


Required Use-of-Force Reporting

While use-of-force reporting is required in many police agencies, there is no state-wide standard. Soon, there will be important reforms. All law enforcement will be required to have use-of-force policies with minimum standards, requiring all use-of-force incidents to be reported, particularly those incidents resulting in death or serious injury.

There will be a publicly-accessible database containing much of the reported information. Names of officers and the individuals involved will not be made public. The aim of this reform will be to ensure that law enforcement maintain the utmost standards of professionalism and increase public trust.


Reforms Addressing Collateral Issues

In 2020, the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor will be 364 days. Previously, it was 365 days. Why the change? This reform will benefit non-citizens, both documented and un-documented, in the possible immigration consequences of a conviction. A New York misdemeanor now won’t be an “aggravated felony” for immigration purposes. Additionally, a lawful permanent resident (“green card” holder) won’t be deported for a single crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”).

Another reform will be to license suspensions for drug charges. As discussed in a recent blog, your license can be subject suspended if you’re convicted of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th Degree, a class A misdemeanor. Absent “compelling circumstances,” the suspension will last for six months. However, this will be changing and there will be an end to license suspensions for non-driving drug convictions.

Another penalty associated with criminal prosecutions is civil asset forfeiture. A person need not be convicted of a crime in order for their personal or real property to be forfeited in this manner. With the new reforms, all seized assets will be held in an independently overseen and administered account. There will also be detailed records regarding disbursements fro the account. Law enforcement will also be prohibited from freezing a person’s cash during a prosecution unless a connection between that money and the alleged illicit conduct can be shown.


Prison Reforms

Moving forward, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) will continue to cut back on the use of solitary confinement. There will be limits to the length of time spent in segregation. Additionally, there will be separate housing units created for rehabilitation following a disciplinary action. DOCCS will also focus on enhancing therapeutic programming to reinforce positive social behavior.

Three prisons will also be closed on a expedited schedule. The closures are estimated to result in $35 million in savings per year.  And additional reforms will help rehabilitation of those with criminal convictions. There will be limitations on the release of mugshots and changes to how past arrest information can be used against someone for employment, housing, and licensing. There will also be a ban on housing discrimination based on arrests that do not lead to a conviction.