The Bronx Defenders Applauds Landmark Criminal Justice Reforms

The Bronx Defenders Applauds Landmark Criminal Justice Reforms

Statement of Justine Olderman, Executive Director


APRIL 1, 2019                                                                   

Contact: Esther Kao,, (718) 508-3404

(NEW YORK)  The Bronx Defenders welcomes the historic passage of a state budget that includes provisions to eliminate cash bail for the vast majority of people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies; requires prosecutors to share pre-trial information known as “discovery,” and takes important steps toward ensuring the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Today, New York has taken a bold step toward making our criminal legal system more transparent, fair, and just. Advocates and directly impacted people led the charge, and the crucial support of Assembly Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Cuomo were a striking reminder of what progressive government can achieve.

The new bail law will guarantee freedom to thousands of people across the state, allowing them to retain jobs and support families while they await trial. Key provisions of the new discovery law include open, early, and automatic sharing of evidence, and a requirement that people have access to the evidence in their cases before being forced to choose between accepting a plea bargain or going to trial. New York now has what many consider to be the best discovery law in the country.  Speedy trial reform will eliminate some of the most egregious practices that deny defendants their constitutional right to have their day in court.

Moreover, the reduction of the maximum sentence for misdemeanors from 365 to 364 days will protect thousands of New Yorkers from harsh immigration consequences.

We also applaud other important reforms in the bill, including:

  • Repeal of the mandatory suspension of a driver license for a drug offense conviction;
  • Reforms to asset forfeiture laws to ensure greater accountability;
  • Removal of certain mandatory bars to employment and licensing;
  • Limits on public disclosure of arrest photographs;
  • Removal of inaccurate information from criminal history record reports; and
  • Expanded protections against discrimination for people whose cases are adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

While we welcome the criminal justice reform provisions in the budget, there is still much work to be done to make this comprehensive vision of criminal justice a reality.  We must ensure that court congestion does not undermine our clients’ right to a speedy trial. We also know that pretrial detention is fundamentally at odds with the presumption of innocence, so we must continue to fight for comprehensive bail reform that ensures robust due process, eliminates wealth- and race-based detention for everyone, and stands firm against the introduction of dangerousness to our bail statute.

As we look ahead, we are also calling on Governor Cuomo to follow through on his promises to legalize marijuana and pass stand-alone legislation in the coming months.  As a holistic defense organization, we have seen the ways that the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws have hurt our clients – not only in criminal court, but in family court, housing court, civil proceedings, and especially in immigration proceedings.  Bronx residents and New Yorkers all over our state are being deported, denied housing, rejected for or denied student loans, separated from their children and harassed on a daily basis as a result of these laws.


The Bronx Defenders is a public defender nonprofit that is radically transforming how low-income people are represented in the justice system and, in doing so, is transforming the system itself. Each year, BxD defends 27,000 low-income Bronx residents in criminal, civil, child welfare, and immigration cases and reaches thousands more through community intake and outreach programs.