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courtroomCriminal justice reform took center stage this year as state lawmakers passed several measures aimed at ensuring greater fairness in our courts and throughout our criminal justice system. District Attorneys across New York State are brushing up on the new laws, which include bail and discovery reform, as they prepare to implement these measures when they go into effect January 2020. 

Bail Reform
New York is now the third state to end the use of cash bail as an incentive to return to court for people accused of low-level offenses.

Under the State’s new bail reform policy, cash bail will not be required for most defendants accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies including those arrested for drug possession, or even many property crimes like theft and burglary. Instead, the law will encourage alternatives such as supervision by a pretrial services agency, which exist in every county to assist defendants after their release.

Judges will still be able to set bail for those charged with qualifying offenses, including violent felonies, witness intimidation or tampering, or violating an order of protection against a member of the same household.

Discovery Reform
In addition, we are working with colleagues in the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) to implement the changes brought on by new laws affecting discovery in the trial process.

Before a trial begins, there's a period of time in which both parties exchange information about the facts of the case. This is called discovery. Among other things, the new law will expedite timing of discovery in all criminal cases; require early compilation and disclosure of a prosecution witness list; and mandate discovery prior to the entry of a guilty plea to a crime. In connection with the new more strenuous time obligations, prosecutors must be provided with “complete” law enforcement agency records and files upon request and take proactive measures to ensure adequate information flow.

Other justice reforms which became law in 2019 include:

Child Victims Act
The Child Victims Act was signed into law Feb. 14, 2019. The legislation ensures those who abuse children are held accountable criminally and civilly and that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have a path to justice. 

This legislation:

  • Extends New York's statute of limitations to allow for criminal charges against sexual abusers of children until their victims turn 28 years old for felony cases, up from the current 23
  • Allows victims to seek civil action against their abusers and institutions that enabled them until they turn 55
  • As of Aug. 14, 2019, opens up a one-year, one-time-only period to allow all victims to seek civil action, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred

Red Flag Law
This common-sense gun safety measure goes into effect August 24, 2019, just as the new school year begins. The law, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order law, prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. This is the first red-flag law in the country which empowers school personnel to report their concerns and seek a protection order based on a person’s actions. The law provides all necessary procedural safeguards to ensure that no firearm is removed without due process while ensuring that tragedies be prevented. New York is now one of 14 states with red-flag laws.