**RELEASE FOR MONDAY, JUNE 5**
KERRY KENNEDY AND ADVOCATES HOST LOBBY DAY AND PRESS CONFERENCE TO DEMAND PASSAGE OF SPEEDY TRIAL REFORM
STALLING OF BILL LEAVES THOUSANDS OF NEW YORKERS WITHOUT A RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL
SENATE AND GOVERNOR CUOMO MUST ACT AND PASS S-1998A TO IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF NEW YORK’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL
Albany, New York – On Monday, June 5th, Kerry Kennedy joined the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, JustLeadershipUSA, VOCAL-NY, New York Working Families Organization, New York Civil Liberties Union, along with dozens of community members, organizations, and public defenders for a press conference and advocacy day demanding legislators support speedy trial reform.
Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an international organization committed to fighting for a just and peaceful world, stood alongside dozens of individuals who have experienced speedy trial issues who called for action on the bill by the Senate Codes Committee and by Governor Cuomo. Kalief’s Law, sponsored by Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Aubry, passed in the Assembly unanimously earlier this year, it has received strong bipartisan support, having passed the Assembly twice, most recently unanimously 130-0.
“Kalief’s Law” would fix New York’s speedy trial statute by improving the effectiveness of New York’s criminal justice system and ensuring that people are not unjustly and unnecessarily held in pre-trial detention. Many individuals who have not yet been convicted of a crime are being held for months, if not years, simply because our speedy trial law in New York is broken.
The bill is named after Kalief Browder, who spent three years detained on Rikers Island with a charge for which he was never tried or convicted, including more than 700 days in solitary confinement. His case was ultimately dismissed. Kalief fought to recover his life, but the traumatic experience had taken its toll. He committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22, a final and permanent indictment of New York’s “speedy trial” statute. Kalief is just one of many people who has experienced the injustice of New York’s broken speedy trial law.
With only a few weeks remaining in the legislative session, there is growing, bipartisan consensus that New York’s speedy trial system is broken and that the Legislature must act to pass needed reforms before it concludes.
Even in the Senate, there is recognition that New York’s current speedy trial system is broken: while the Senate Majority has stalled on passage of Kalief’s Law, a more limited reform measure that relates to the timely scheduling of criminal trials was introduced in the Senate by members of the Democrats (Squadron), IDC (Savino), and Republicans (Lanza).
Kalief’s Law is currently awaiting action by the Senate Codes Committee chaired by Senator Lanza. Governor Cuomo has also yet to come forward to support the bill. The continued stalling in the Senate and the absence of the Governor’s leadership in supporting Kalief’s Law means that thousands of New Yorkers will continue to suffer from the injustice of a broken speedy trial system.
"Justice delayed is justice denied. New York’s speedy trial system is broken forcing thousands to languish in dangerous jails while tax payers are charged exorbitant fees for bureaucratic incompetence. The Assembly unanimously passed Kalief's Law -- it's time for the Senate to act and send this law to the Governor for his signature. New York must stop detaining so many people pretrial, and instead be a beacon for justice," said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
"Standing up for rights guaranteed by our Constitution shouldn't be controversial -- it's time to fix our speedy trial crisis," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "Thank you to Assemblymember Aubry, Katal, JLUSA, Working Families, Legal Aid, VOCAL, the Browder family, and the many advocates, organizations, and impacted New Yorkers calling to fix the system.”
“I truly hope my Senate colleagues will step up to the plate and vote Kalief’s law out of the Senate Codes Committee,” said Assemblyman Aubry. “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.”
“Every possible step must be taken to reduce unnecessary court delays, end unnecessary pretrial detention, and ensure the Constitutional Rights of New Yorkers are protected, said Melody Lee, Director of Strategy & Campaigns at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “Kalief’s Law is the comprehensive, common sense reform New York needs and we need the Senate and the Governor to act NOW, we cannot allow for another year to pass. The Legislature must act swiftly - New Yorkers deserve to have their constitutional right to a speedy trial upheld, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity!”
"By failing to act quickly on passing Kalief's Law, New York State is denying thousands of people their Constitutional right to a speedy trial," said Glenn E. Martin, President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA. "It is an affront to the values of fairness and equity that New Yorkers expect from their criminal justice system. 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. New York should be leading the country in developing innovative criminal justice strategies, but instead it is failing to fix its own broken court system. JustLeadershipUSA calls on the Governor to take action to ensure that Kalief's Law is passed and urges the Senate to join the Assembly in their support of the bill and pass it immediately."
"As we speak, thousands of New Yorkers are sitting in jail, unable to afford bail, awaiting trials that may never come. This constitutional crisis is in plain sight, and so is the solution,” said Scott Levy, Special Counsel to the Criminal Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “We call on the Codes Committee to vote on Kalief’s Law and advance it to the Senate without further delay. It is long past time to fix New York's broken speedy trial law and ensure that all New Yorkers have meaningful access to justice.”
"Speedy trial is a cornerstone to due process and a fair trial," said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. "To help prevent against tragedies experienced by Kalief Browder from happening, New York needs to enact bold reform into law this session. This bill is a start on the road to full speedy trial reform."
“Justice delayed is justice denied," said Andrea Nieves, Attorney in the Policy and Advocacy Unit of Brooklyn Defender Services. "Kalief’s Law provides an important and cost-effective way to limit how long defendants are detained on Rikers Island, provides defendants and victims with faster resolution, and promotes justice for all.”
“Kalief’s Law will make important strides toward restoring the right to a speedy trial in New York, which has been nothing but an empty promise that causes countless New Yorkers to languish in jail and ultimately costed Kalief Browder his life,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“People in New York are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around like it's supposed to be,” said Robert Suarez, VOCAL-NY community leader and Co-Chair of the Peer Network of New York. “The system is broken. And once again it is people of color and poor people who are the victims of this failed justice system.”
"Ensuring that New York is able to afford every individual charged with a crime the right to a speedy trial, should be of paramount importance to all elected officials,” said Edward Rush NY State Legislative Director the Working Families Organization. “Unfortunately, this is yet another example of how a handful of elected Democrats who make up the IDC have been able to keep New Yorkersfrom getting the kind of progressive that they deserve, while aligning themselves with senate Republicans for their own financial and political gain."
"The right to a speedy trial is a central tenet of our justice system but that system is broken here in New York," said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. "The delays are bad for crime victims, for defendants, for prosecutors and for taxpayers, who are footing the bill for those who are in detention for long periods awaiting trial. Kalief's Law would ensure that everyone gets a speedy trial. The Senate should pass the bill without delay."
“The Bronx Freedom Fund calls on the New York State Senate to uphold the Constitution and honor the memory of Kalief Browder by enacting speedy trial reform,” said Elena Weissman, Director of Bronx Operations at the Bronx Freedom Fund. “Through our work in one of the most backlogged courts in the nation, we see individuals miss countless days of work, school, and childcare obligations, only to have their cases adjourned for months and even years by a system that is closer to punishment than it is to due process. Thousands of others are forced to await their trials behind bars, in on bail they cannot afford. For these individuals and their communities, extensive court delays compound the destructive forces of incarceration. They also present enormous costs to taxpayers, and ultimately bring us no closer to just case outcomes. The tragedy suffered by Kalief Browder and his loved ones is emblematic of the nightmare facing the thousands of New Yorkers languishing behind bars simply for being poor. Speedy trial reform is not just a logistical necessity: it is a moral imperative, and we stand with our partners in pushing towards a fairer and leaner system today.”
“Without speedy trial, the prosecutors have a windfall advantage making the judicial process a sham,” said Mallah Divine Mallah, member at the Katal Center for Health Equity and Justice. “You're innocent until proven guilty but that's not the reality in New York. What happened to Kalief Browder should have never happened and to make sure that this never happens again, electeds must support speedy trial reform."
"Too many people are falling through the loopholes of our justice system because of a broken speedy trial rule,” said Aaron C. Hinton, Founder of DUECES. “The longer they stay in jail the more likely they are to adopt that prison mindset. Let's pass this bill to assure that every NY resident obtains their right to a speedy trial. We have lost more than enough to this travesty of injustice. We are here today to tell our legislators to vote ‘yes’ on the speedy trial bill AKA Kalief Browder’s Law.”
“At the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, we see firsthand how bail imprisons people simply for being poor and coerces guilty pleas,” said Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “This injustice is exacerbated by New York’s failure to ensure speedy trial. The inability to afford bail sends innocent people to Rikers; without a real guarantee of a speedy trial, as required by the 6th Amendment, they may stay in jail for months or even years. We urge the Legislature to pass Kalief’s Law and to immediately move forward with legislation that eliminates money bail.”
"The justice system is broken and it’s not going to be fixed quickly without speedy trial reform,” said Audwin Caines, member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “I know this because I spent four years on Rikers until I felt bullied into taking a deal. This experience changed my life, because after learning there is no justice in the justice system I had to learn to keep my guard up."
“The Five Borough Defenders, an organization of NYC public defenders, civil rights attorneys and advocates, ardently support speedy trial reform to address the vast chasm between New York’s lax requirements for prosecutors to be ready for trial and the constitutional protections promised by the right to a speedy trial,” said Sarah Evans-DeVita of the Five Borough Defenders. “Kalief Browder’s story is just one of too many examples of individuals caught in the time warp of the criminal justice system. The current system places the burden of court congestion, high prosecutor caseloads, and the failure to produce complete discovery on our clients, who are forced to appear over and over in court, many languishing in jail for years, presumed innocent. Today, we join with advocates across the state to lobby for this much needed reform. It is imperative to take time away from fighting these battles in court to share our experiences and those of our clients, amplifying their stories in this call for change.”
"In New York State, we unjustly incarcerate thousands of individuals who have not yet been convicted of a crime for months and even years while they await their day in court,” said William Evans, Founder and President of Neighborhood Benches and a member of JustLeadershipUSA. “This results in inhumane suffering, loss of jobs, housing, family and more. It also costs taxpayers millions of dollars. I know first-hand the destruction that pretrial incarceration causes to people’s lives. Our speedy trial law is broken and it MUST be repaired. I urge the NYS Senate to act NOW, and pass comprehensive speedy trial reform, Kalief’s Law."
"We are calling for Albany policymakers to be RADICAL, by tackling an issue that deprives all New Yorkers of their constitutional right to a speedy trial," said Samantha Johnson, a member of JustLeadershipUSA. "We all know Kalief Browder's story, yet there are thousands of other people who are facing speedy trial issues across New York state. New York State elected officials, this is not the time to turn a blind eye to suffering. Thousands of New Yorkers are depending upon you. We demand you fix Speedy Trial! Governor Cuomo, the time is now - FIX SPEEDY TRIAL."
"New York the only state that doesn't grant its residents the right to a speedy trial as mandated by the U.S. constitution,” said Rabbi Gabriel Ben Yehuda, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “Before Raise the Age got passed New York was the only state besides North Carolina whose criminal justice system treated its children like adults. We are supposed to be a progressive state but we are still playing catch up with the rest of the country when it comes to what is right. It's time for us to pass speedy trial now.”
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.