Advocates of Speedy Trial Reform Urge Senate Codes to Pass “Kalief’s Law”

Community Members, Advocates, Public Defenders host Press Conference and Lobby Day as Senate Codes Committee Considers Reform Bill

Bill previously passed the Assembly 130-0 with Democrats and Republicans agreeing it was the right step for reform

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 25, 2017

Contact: Thomas Meara | Email: tmeara@kivvit.com | Phone: (718) 309-3506

 

ALBANY, NY – On April 25, 2017, advocates for speedy trial reform gathered at the State Capitol in anticipation of the Senate Codes Committee vote on S-1998A “Kalief’s Law”.  The Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, JustLeadershipUSA, VOCAL-NY, New York Working Families, Organization, Bronx Defenders, community members, and more met with Senators and staff ahead of the vote, to advance legislation sponsored by Senator Daniel Squadron in the Senate that would improve the effectiveness of New York’s criminal justice system and uphold the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The bill is on Tuesday’s Senate Codes Committee agenda after Squadron filed a procedural motion for a vote earlier this session. A Motion for Committee Consideration requires committee chairs to place the relevant bill on a committee agenda and schedule a vote within 45 days. 


"Kalief’s Law” corrects the 1972 “ready rule,” which frequently allows trials to be delayed indefinitely by tying mandated speedy trial deadlines to trial “readiness." The measure has passed the Assembly twice, including with unanimous support, most recently 130-0 with tremendous bi-partisan support. It was also included in the Assembly’s budget proposal.

Our current criminal justice system is broken. In New York City alone, nearly 80% of the people in jail are detained pre-trial – they are not yet convicted of any crime. Yet severe court delays and a lack of speedy trial reform leads to people spending months and years in jail, just waiting for their day in court.

Kalief Browder spent nearly three years on Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack. He traveled back and forth to court thirty-three times, and each time were not ready to try the case. Kalief fought to recover his life, but the traumatic experience had taken its toll, and he committed suicide.

Kalief’s story is not unusual. In fact, in mid-2015, approximately 1,500 people had been sitting on Rikers for over a year, pretrial – they have not been convicted of the crime they are charged with, they are simply waiting for their day in court.

On Tuesday, advocates, public defenders, and people who have experienced speedy trial delays urged the Senate Codes Committee to take action and pass much needed legislation that would ensure that New York State remains a leader in criminal justice reform.

"The Codes Committee Chair and Vice Chair committing to include Kalief's Law on an agenda this session means there is still a path to consideration by the whole Senate -- and truly addressing this crisis. It's urgent the Senate join the entire State Assembly in affirming support for a more just criminal justice system by passing Kalief's Law," said State Senator Daniel Squadron, Senate bill sponsor. Thank you to Senators Lanza and Savino, Assemblymember Aubry, Katal, JLUSA, Working Families, Legal Aid, VOCAL, and the many advocates, organizations, and impacted New Yorkers calling for a better system."

"The right to a fair and speedy trial is not only guaranteed in the American Constitution, but is also a basic human right,” said Senator Diane Savino, Vice-Chair of the Senate Codes Committee. “The example of Kalief Browder spending 3 years on Rikers Island and over 700 days in solitary confinement for a charge that was never brought to trial is an egregious oversight of our criminal justice system. Kalief is only one of hundreds of examples where the right to a speedy trial never occurred. This type of cruel treatment must end. I am proud to support this legislation to ensure that New Yorkers are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial and will continue to fight for this bill's passage." 

"I truly hope my Senate colleagues will step up to the plate today and vote Kalief's Law out of the Senate Codes Committee," said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, the Assembly bill sponsor. "This isn't a partisan issue. We've passed this bill twice in the Assembly - and we passed it unanimously. The entire criminal justice system tragically failed 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who spent three years in Rikers Island awaiting trial - we must not fail him again."

"We urge the Senate Codes Committee to pass Kalief's Law, which would ensure every New Yorker is granted their constitutional right to a speedy trial,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We believe the full Senate should then move forward with passing this important law, which would save thousands of New Yorkers from unnecessary and devastating pre-trial detention."

“New Yorkers deserve a criminal justice system that is fair and just,” said Melody Lee, co-founder and Director of Strategy & Campaigns at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “Detaining people for lengthy periods of time and denying them their basic constitutional right to a speedy trial is egregious. This bill has now passed twice in the Assembly – demonstrating overwhelmingly that this not a partisan issue – this is about ensuring we fix our broken criminal justice system. It is now time for the Senate Codes Committee to act and we urge them to pass the bill immediately.”

"Across the state, people languish in jail for months or even years waiting for their day in court, undermining the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be a central value of our criminal justice system,” said Glenn E. Martin, President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA. “New York should be leading the country in developing innovative criminal justice strategies, and fixing its broken court system is a prerequisite to making that a reality. JustLeadershipUSA urges the Senate to join the Assembly in their support of Kalief's Law and pass it immediately."

"According to our constitution, every defendant has the right to a speedy trial,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY. “Yet in reality, so many New Yorkers, especially those too poor to make bail, are languishing in jails because of unnecessary case delays. We urge that the NYS Senate Codes committee move the speedy trial bill forward and we look to the rest of the NYS legislature to follow their lead and get this law passed this session."

“For decades, New York's broken speedy trial law has failed to live up to the core constitutional value that everyone, regardless of wealth or status, is entitled to their day in court,” said Scott Levy, Special Counsel to the Criminal Practice at the Bronx Defenders. “Thousands of New Yorkers sit for years in our jails, unable to afford bail, awaiting trials that never happen. Many thousands more, charged with low-level offenses, are forced to return to court over and over again, missing work, school, and medical appointments, with no realistic opportunity for the most basic element of due process: a trial to address the charges and move on with their lives.  We urge Codes Committee and the full Senate to pass Kalief's Law. It is long past time to ensure that all New Yorkers have meaningful access to justice.”

“We urge that the Senate Codes Committee pass Kalief’s Law today to ensure that those detained pre-trial have a meaningful right to a speedy trial,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “For too long, prosecutorial delay and court congestion have forced people to plead guilty or languish at Rikers. We encourage both chambers to move on this legislation quickly before session concludes in June.”

"New York Working Families urges the Senate Codes Committee to hear New Yorkers' call for Speedy Trial to be reformed so we can help make sure that thousands of individuals each year will not continue to languish in jail in pre trial detention despite being convicted of no crime," said Ed Rush, NY Legislative Director of the New York Working Families Organization. 

"Bail and speedy trial reform go hand in hand. Many of the individuals in jail end up not being guilty of anything at all, but because they can't get a court date, they are languishing in jail,” said Rabbi Gabriel Ben Yehuda, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment and it goes against the U.S. constitution. The system targets our young people and gets them to accept pleas for things they didn’t do. The court process needs to be speedy and it needs to be fair."

"I want NY legislators and stakeholders to know that the loopholes within our speedy trial process favors the prosecution and pressures the accused to cop out just to end the cycle of going back and forth to court - no one should have to go through that to prove their innocence," said Mallah Divine Mallah, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.

"The reality of our jails is that they harm people in myriad ways both physically and, more importantly, psychologically," said Giovannie Hernandez, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. "The longer one is detained in such an environment, the further into the abyss of violence, oppression, and corruption they are forced to go. We are talking about people who have been charged, but not convicted of a crime, therefore we are talking about people who are, by our laws, presumed innocent until proven guilty. The innocent should not be exposed to such traumas. We need speedy trial reform now."

"I know from first-hand experience how trial delays, and unnecessary time spent in jail before trial, result in people unfairly taking plea bargains, just to get out of the horrible, inhumane conditions in jail” said K-Born Rivers, Founder & Director of I AM MY COMMUNITY and a JustLeadershipUSA member. “Court congestion and trial delays also waste taxpayer dollars. Reforming New York's speedy trial law is critical. It' very important for our economy, and our legal system. It's also just basic human rights."

"Anyone who has had to deal with our broken jail system knows that the problem is more than about ineffective rehabilitation or ineffective punishment for crime,” said Vanessa Renée Michal, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “It's about people's basic human rights. It's about treating people with dignity. And the reality remains, without speedy trial, those who suffer the most are the poor, the people who can't afford legal help, or to post bail or acquire bonds. Without a speedy trial, our criminal justice system continues to only represent the privileged and people with means. This is an injustice that has to stop."


About Katal

Katal works to strengthen the people, policies, institutions, and movements that advance health, equity, and justice for everyone. As a strategy hub and collaborative partner, Katal deploys expertise in organizing, advocacy, leadership development, and research to help secure practical and lasting change. Katal takes its direction from those most impacted by the harms we work to transform.

About JustLeadershipUSA

JustLeadershipUSA is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. Mass incarceration is the most significant domestic threat to the fabric of our democracy. The reason for such high incarceration rates is not serious crimes but misguided policies such as mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws and reductions in the availability of parole and other early release mechanisms. Through targeted advocacy, strengthening leadership and membership support, JustLeadershipUSA believes a decarcerated America is possible. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform.