• Wednesday, June 09, 2021 2:03 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)




    Both Houses Pass Justice Equity Act or Qualified Agency Bill Granting Public Defenders Direct Access to Clients’ Rap Sheets

    A Key Tool Needed to Confirm Expunged Marijuana Convictions Under MRTA


    (Albany) Both houses of the State Legislature passed a long-standing criminal justice reform bill that provides all public defenders and assigned counsel with direct access to their clients’ criminal history records efficiency (S. 7073, Bailey and A. 7729, Peoples-Stokes). Currently, these providers must rely on district attorneys, police departments, and judges for access to their clients’ rap sheets, and in a number of counties they are denied access, such as Onondaga County.

    Senator Jamaal Bailey said, "A fair and equitable justice system requires that public defenders and counsel have access to the proper resources needed to represent their clients. The passing of this bill creates a broader stroke of equity in our justice system. Instead of being steps behind, public defenders and legal aid societies will be in tandem with prosecutors by being granted automatic access to the criminal histories of their clients and being designated as ‘qualified agencies.’ As chair of the Codes Committee and sponsor of this bill, I am pleased that this bill passed both houses and that we will be a step closer towards equity and justice in our state."

    Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “The Justice Equity Act or Qualified Agency bill, provides defense attorneys with an important instrument to enhance justice and improve efficiency. It is a key tool to confirm expunged marijuana convictions under the MRTA law, and long overdue.”

    Susan Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA), said, “Defense counsel cannot properly evaluate or investigate a case, assess a client’s eligibility for diversion or other programs, or determine the immigration consequences of their client’s case or the client’s predicate status without access to complete criminal history information. In 1990, the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS)* recommended such access. ‘Qualified agencies,’ as defined in Executive Law § 835(9), have access to criminal history information. This bill would add agencies and organizations that provide public defense representation and administrators of assigned counsel plans to the list of qualified agencies, so that those entities can enter into use and dissemination agreements with DCJS to access criminal history information.”

    Kevin Stadelmaier, Chairperson of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer’s (NYSACDL) Legislative Committee, stated “With the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this year, it is imperative that this bill be passed into law to provided public defenders with an important tool.  Allowing our attorneys to obtain their client’s criminal history report will assist in ensuring accuracy in the expungement of prior marijuana convictions.  Additionally, timely access to criminal history reports assists in providing effective representation at all stages of a criminal matter; including pre-trial release applications, case investigation, plea negotiation, and sentencing advocacy. We urge the Governor to sign this essential legislation.”

    Laurette Mulry, President of the Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY), said “We applaud the Senate and Assembly for passing this important bill which provides defenders direct and early access to criminal history reports. Delay in accessing this information slows the resolution of cases and causes court congestion.  Direct public defense access to this necessary information will expedite proceedings and save county resources.  Absent criminal history information, public defense lawyers cannot make effective pre-trial release applications, resulting in costly and unnecessary pretrial incarceration or supervision.” 


    Kathleen M. Dougherty, Executive Director of the Onondaga County Bar Assoc. Assigned Counsel Program, stated, “The Onondaga County Bar Assn. Assigned Counsel Program is especially grateful for the passage of the Qualified Agency bill by both Houses. We urge Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law. Until now, we have not had direct access to rap sheets but instead have been compelled to rely on third parties to provide copies. As a result, access to our own clients’ rap sheets has been irregular at best. This bill’s expansion of the term “qualified agencies” to include indigent and public defense organizations allows us first-hand access and greatly improves our ability to fairly and diligently represent our clients at every stage of their cases.


    Background: This bill passed the Assembly and Senate in 2019, and was unfortunately vetoed by the Governor, who stated in his Veto Message that existing law and the new discovery reform law provide access. However, defenders need direct and early access to criminal history reports, which is not afforded by the discovery reform and other laws. Since 1997, public defense providers that operate defender-based advocacy programs have been allowed access to the DCJS database to obtain the criminal history information of their own clients under Executive Law § 243(3).


    *July 1990 DCJS’ Systems Improvements for Enhanced Community Safety (SIFECS) Public Defense State I Report

  • Wednesday, June 02, 2021 10:44 AM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    The Chief Defenders Association of New York Calls on the State Legislature to Enact Key Criminal Legal System Reforms in Final Days of Session

    (Albany, NY) – The Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY) today called on state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo to prioritize and enact key criminal legal system reforms that would overhaul New York’s parole system, automatically clear eligible New Yorkers’ criminal record to end a cycle of perpetual punishment, and do away with harmful appeals waivers that deny defendants the opportunity to challenge injustices in the legal system.

    Laurette Mulry, President of CDANY, said: “This legislative session, New York State stood up for New Yorkers impacted by the criminal legal system by enacting historic measures that limited the use of solitary confinement, ended marijuana prohibition, and repealed the Walking While Trans ban. We celebrate these tremendous victories on behalf of Black and Latinx New Yorkers who are disproportionately targeted and punished by the state’s criminal legal system, but we also recognize that there is much more to be done. 

    As president of the Chief Defenders Association of New York advocating for people facing loss of liberty, family separation and related consequences in the legal system, I implore the legislature to prioritize and pass these critical remaining criminal legal system bills that begin to address and undo the harm of system involvement. This set of legislation seeks to streamline and transform the appeals process; overhaul the parole system; and undo the lifelong consequences of a criminal conviction. As this session draws to a close, we urge our state government to take these crucial steps to continue its commitment to equality and justice.”

    The Chief Defenders Association of New York calls on the New York State legislature to enact the following bills: 

    • S1279 (Bailey)/A5689 (Cruz) - An Act to amend the criminal procedure law, in relation to streamlining the assignment of appellate counsel for indigent criminal defendants

    • S1281 (Bailey)/A5688 (Cruz) - An Act to amend the criminal procedure law, in relation to facilitating appellate review of rulings that implicate issues of public concern 

    • S1280 (Bailey)/A5687 (Cruz) - An Act to amend the criminal procedure law, in relation to appellate review of the fairness and appropriateness of an imposed sentence 

    • S15-A (Hoylman)/ A3475-A (De La Rosa) - Elder Parole - An act to amend the executive law, in relation to parole eligibility for incarcerated persons over age fifty-five who have already served 15 or more years 

    • S1415-A (Rivera)/A4231A (Weprin) - Fair and Timely Parole - An act to amend the executive law, in relation to findings of the state board of parole necessary for discretionary release of incarcerated persons on parole

    • S1144 (Benjamin)/A5576 (Forrest) - Less is More - An act to amend the executive law and the penal law, in relation to revocation of community supervision

    • S1553A (Myrie)/A6399 (Cruz) - Clean Slate - An act to amend the criminal procedure law, the executive law and the correction law, in relation to automatic expungement of certain convictions

  • Friday, April 30, 2021 1:26 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    Today, CDANY released three memos of support for important pending legislation in New York State.

    - Bills S1279/A5689; S1281/A5688; and S1280/A5687 that seek to uphold the important rights of criminal defendants pursuing appeals;

    - Bill S.2888/A.2266 that seeks to raise the criminal mischief monetary threshold set in 1915; and

    - The Clean Slate Legislation that would automatically clear conviction records for all New Yorkers who have successfully served their sentence.

    Read More Here:

  • Tuesday, March 02, 2021 9:57 AM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    On Tuesday, March 2nd, CDANY issued a Memo in Support of Legislation Enacting a Prohibition Against the Use of Chemical Agents by Police Against Children, currently on the Senate and Assembly floors as S4002 (Brouk) / A5449 (Meeks). 

    From the Memo

    "The membership of the Chief Defenders Association of New York State (CDANY) observed with shock and horror as the above described weapon was recently utilized on a defenseless, handcuffed 9 year old girl by members of the Rochester Police Department. The child was experiencing a mental health crisis and was crying out for her father; she was being placed in a police car by several adult police officers. The use of pepper spray in this instance was completely inexcusable.

    For this reason and to protect children in our communities in the future, CDANY submits this memorandum in support of S4002 (Brouk)/A5449 (Meeks). This Bill is a necessary and obvious first step in police reform, and CDANY urges its immediate passage."

    Please see the full memo here

  • Thursday, February 18, 2021 1:44 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    On February 18, 2021, CDANY sent a memo to the New York State Legislature in opposition to permanent virtual arraignments. Please see the memo below and available via PDF here


    Arraignments commence a criminal proceeding, making them one of the most important court appearances in a criminal case. Persons accused are notified of the substance of charges, enter a not guilty plea, are notified of orders of protection or loss of licensing privileges, and can face potential pre-conviction incarceration. In New York, arraignments have always been live appearances, in Court, with arraigning judges being required to assign counsel. The Hurrell-Harring settlement and statewide expansion provide funding for required in-person counsel at arraignment.

    The Governor’s Executive Budget correctly points out that, under his leadership, New York Courts were able to quickly and successfully pivot to conducting arraignments in a virtual setting during the court system shutdown necessitated by the COVID crisis. This was a necessary step during a time of an unprecedented health crisis. Unfortunately, the Governor has also stated his intention to render essential in-person arraignments obsolete.

    CDANY is calling on the legislature to protect the integrity of the judicial system by requiring that live arraignments return when courts are reopened.

    Virtual arraignments deprive the accused of effective assistance of counsel. The personal appearance of counsel is necessary to develop an attorney-client relationship, to foster trust, and to privately obtain information necessary to enable zealous advocacy. Much critical communication is lost when using screens.

    Empirical evidence demonstrates that virtual arraignments lead to worse outcomes for the accused. The virtual system proposed by Governor Cuomo was already tried in Cook County, Illinois, where an ill-fated televised arraignment protocol was implemented in 1999. A lawsuit ensued, alleging that the system was unconstitutional and denied arrestees both due process and effective counsel. Bail outcomes of virtual arraignments were studied as part of the lawsuit, revealing that bail was a staggering 51% higher than it had been before the televised system was implemented. Plaintiff’s counsel largely attributed the disparity to the inherent dehumanization of those appearing as defendants in a virtual setting.

    Virtual arraignments devalue the Constitution and the integrity of the Court process. Chief Judge DiFiore affirmed that virtual arraignments were a temporary, emergency measure, as the law requires arraignments be conducted in person. Clients are constitutionally entitled to private, privileged conversations with counsel before and during court proceedings, which is not feasible in a virtual setting. A judge’s ability to gauge a defendant’s mental status and understanding of legal proceedings is also impeded. Also, virtual appearances lack necessary formality and decorum by their very nature.

    Virtual arraignments exacerbate the divide between the rich and the poor, creating a Tale of Two Justice Systems: Poor people are far less likely to have access to the resources necessary to make virtual appearances adequate. Poor rural New Yorkers often do not have access to internet at all, and clients living in areas where internet is available may not be able to afford it. Many indigent clients do not have computers or smartphones. With a virtual system in place, a poverty divide is evident in the provision of legal representation--poor clients are more likely to have counsel assigned, and may be unable to meet their attorney until arraignment, whereas people with resources to retain can meet with attorneys beforehand. Therefore, rich clients are afforded attorney-client privilege and better informed advocacy, while poor individuals have impersonal representation, hampered by lack of time and proximity.

    Virtual arraignments are less efficient. Pre-COVID, many individuals could be arraigned consecutively, in a single docket. Clients were interviewed privately prior to appearance, counsel assigned, cases heard by judges, and paperwork served and processed. In the virtual system, attorneys must wait for phone lines or virtual rooms to open before speaking to clients. Often, links do not work, or are sent incorrectly or to the wrong person. Internet connections fail, and programs crash. When multiple people speak simultaneously, speakers cannot be heard, making the record inaudible for court reporters and interpreters. Paperwork must be emailed, causing delay and issues with data storage. Clients cannot sign or be served orders of protection. This has culminated in arraignment calendars taking far longer per case than under old systems. The issue is even more pronounced in counties with Centralized Arraignment Parts in their jails, where deputy sheriffs are forced to act as IT professionals, court clerks, and courtroom security. During the COVID shutdown, there have been far fewer cases requiring arraignment; once courts are fully open, a virtual arraignment system would lead to increasingly bottlenecked calendars.

    Virtual arraignments deprive the public of access to the Courts. The Public cannot walk in to a virtual courtroom, and links have to be carefully shared to avoid internet trolls. This results in family and friends being unable to attend arraignments to vouch that their loved one has a place to live, or will be supervised if released.

    It is impossible to prevent recording of virtual proceedings. It is currently illegal to record court proceedings without a court order. This is simply impossible to police in the digital sphere, and could lead to permanent recordings on social media and elsewhere on the internet.

  • Tuesday, February 02, 2021 7:49 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    Albany, NY – The Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY) today commended state lawmakers and Governor Cuomo for approving legislation that would remove from the penal code a provision related to prostitution that has been routinely enforced in a manner that is discriminatory and without legal justification. (S1351/Hoylman; A3355/Paulin).

    Laurette Mulry, president of CDANY said: “This bill would end the use of the penal code (Section 240.37) as a pretext for profiling and prosecuting women of color -- transgender women, in particular. In striking this provision from the law, the legislature serves justice and fairness.”

    Penal Law Section 240.37 prohibits loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense. Historically, this law has been used to arrest people for a range of lawful conduct, such as “repeatedly” waving at a person in a vehicle, wearing a skirt that a police officer deemed too short, or merely speaking with someone on the street. The overwhelming majority of those arrested for the offense have been women – most often women of color and transgender women.

    Enforcement of the statute has led to intrusive searches of those targeted by its enforcement – a patently unconstitutional practice that has resulted in degrading and dehumanizing women of color, transgender women, non-binary people of color, and the trafficking victims these laws are meant to protect.

    CDANY was created by a group of leaders of public defense organizations from across New York State. The organization advocates for those who administer mandated legal representation programs, as well as their staff and their clients, in an effort to bring positive change to the criminal justice system. CDANY called for repeal of the so-called “Walking While Trans” offense in its legislative reform agenda for 2021.


  • Wednesday, October 14, 2020 4:40 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)
    Please see the statement below from the Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY), the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) and the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) calling on Governor Cuomo to sign the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act.

    Defender groups call on governor to sign

    the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act


    The New York State Legislature has approved legislation that would prohibit the practice of suspending a driver’s license for failure to pay a fine or appear at a traffic court hearing.

    The legislature rightly concluded that this policy is unjust, irrational, and racially discriminatory in its enforcement.

    It is incumbent upon the governor to sign the bill into law.

    People who have the money to pay a traffic fine will do so. Most people who fail to pay a fine or who do not appear at a hearing are not scofflaws, they simply cannot afford to pay the fine or to miss a day’s work in order to appear in traffic court. Suspending their driver’s license serves no public interest; this policy only increases financial pressure on the economically vulnerable.
    The bill does not absolve from responsibility those who have been fined for violating a traffic rule, but simply allows terms of payment that are fair and reasonable.

    Seventy-five percent of people whose license has been suspended continue to drive – out of necessity, in order to get to work or to meet the needs of family members. This legislation allows people to resolve a traffic infraction without putting at risk their employment or the well-being of family members – and without exposing themselves to further legal jeopardy by driving without a license.

    Finally, this legislation speaks to an issue of racial and economic justice. Violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law are enforced disproportionately against people of color. The financial impact of a traffic fine and the adverse consequences of losing a driver’s license are borne disproportionately by persons of color with limited financial resources.

    In 2020, Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers made a new commitment to addressing systemic racial inequities. If the governor is serious about dismantling structural obstacles to racial equity in the laws and policies of New York, he must put his signature to this legislation.

  • Friday, September 04, 2020 2:23 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    CDANY Condemns the Killing of Daniel Prude and
    Continues to Advocate for Actual Justice in our Justice System

    On Friday, September 4, 2020, the Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY) issued the following statement on the Killing of Daniel Prude:

    “George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Antiana Jefferson. Aura Rosser. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Many, many others.

    And now Daniel Prude.

    Once again, a Black person has been killed by a police officer. Once again, our “justice” system failed to ensure that those responsible face repercussions for the death of Mr. Prude and that the other police officers present face consequences for both their dehumanizing treatment of Mr. Prude, and their failure to intervene on his behalf. Daniel Prude needed help – instead of receiving help he was handcuffed, mocked, forced to wear a spithood, and forced to lie face-down on the freezing ground. While helpless, he was asphyxiated by police officers.

    Like many others across our country, our members watched the video of the senseless killing of Daniel Prude at the hands of the Rochester Police Department with shock and horror, but sadly not with surprise. The members of CDANY are all too familiar with these brutal acts executed in the name of law enforcement against people of color in our community, and we knew we would be here again. We offer both our deepest condolences to the family of Daniel Prude, and a promise that we will continue to say his name as we advocate for justice for people of color in the justice system, work to end the practice of arresting those in mental health crisis, and stand with those in our community who are advocating for change.”

  • Thursday, April 02, 2020 6:38 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    The New York State budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 includes provisions that compromise criminal justice reform legislation adopted in 2019.  The Chief Defenders Association of New York issued the following statement regarding those budget measures that address state law governing bail practice and criminal discovery.

    In 2019 lawmakers approved landmark criminal justice reforms that limited the state’s ability to jail people on the basis of an unproven allegation before adjudication of the charges against them; and required prosecutors to provide the accused, in a timely manner, all the evidence on which allegations of wrongdoing are based.  These reforms were decades overdue.  New York law governing bail and discovery were among the most harsh and unfair in the nation.

    The 2019 reforms were based on principles of fairness and justice, and on the emerging body of criminal justice scholarship that demonstrates the grave harm caused to individuals, families and communities by overzealous policing and prosecution, which disproportionately targets those living in low-income communities of color. 

    The 2020/2021 budget violates those principles.  The amendments to the criminal justice law will increase the numbers of individuals subject to pre-trial detention and will encourage prosecutors to evade their obligation to disclose evidence to those accused of a crime.

    These budget measures are not based on principle or common sense, but rather on election-year maneuvering in service of a false narrative. This politicization of criminal justice reform will increase the public health risks created by the coronavirus pandemic. While local courts, defenders, prosecutors, police, mayors and corrections officials are working tirelessly to further reduce the jail population,  the amendments to the bail law encourage incarceration rather than decarceration, at a time when cases are unable to proceed due to closed courts.  

    But for aggressive, principled advocacy, both inside and outside the Capitol building, the rollback of the 2019 reforms of the bail and discovery laws could have been more extensive. 

    The movement to promote systemic criminal justice reform will not be derailed.  This effort is led by a committed, well informed community of social justice advocates, criminal justice lawyers and scholars, and public health experts. There are progressive allies in government who recognize that social justice requires comprehensive criminal justice reform. 

    The Chief Defenders Association of New York is a member of this community; the CDANY’s members are committed to advancing criminal justice law and policy that protects the constitutional rights and the health, safety and well-being of everyone in New York State.

  • Wednesday, April 01, 2020 2:10 PM | Jennifer Van Ort (Administrator)

    On April 1, CDANY joined with NYSACDL & NYSDA to issue the following statement regarding the last-minute Bail Proposal for the New York State Budget:


    (Albany, NY) -- Today,  the three statewide defender organizations, the Chief Defenders Association of New York (CDANY), the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NYSACDL), and the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA), released the following statement in response to revelations of a bail bill proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Senate:

    “The governor’s proposal represents a radical departure from constitutional principles, sound public policy, and common sense. This bill would authorize a judge to jail a person on unproven charges based solely on speculation that person may be arrested in the future. The bill would dramatically increase the numbers of people held in jail prior to the adjudication of charges. 

    The bill is not merely a repeal of the bail reform laws the legislature approved in 2019, which have already significantly reduced the pre-trial jail population for low-level offenses. The governor’s proposal would reverse course and, instead, increase pre-trial incarceration rates and exacerbate the racial disparities that existed prior to the reforms. 

    The governor’s proposal will expand the number of people held in jails and prisons even as the coronavirus pandemic places those individuals at heightened risk of illness and death.  To introduce this measure during a public health crisis is unconscionable.  We are counting on members of the legislature who believe in justice and fairness to stop this bill from becoming law.”



    The Governor and Senate’s proposal would:

    Replace cash bail with indefinite preventative detention (remand) with no possibility of release for most people, including people charged with misdemeanors, based on flight risk or a so-called “dangerousness” assessment

    • The bill repeals cash bail but greatly increases detention.  Individuals who are remanded have no avenue for release as the due process provisions are eviscerated.

    Creates new standard for pretrial detention based on a so-called “dangerousness” assessment

    • The bill broadens the standard for detention: “the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure the principal’s return to court or prevent the principal from committing a crime involving serious physical injury to another person based on the facts of the instant case.”
    • This language authorized judges to predict the future which inevitably invites implicit bias into our pretrial system: It allows judges to guess future “dangerousness.”  This will undoubtedly lead to more racial disparities in our system.
    • This bill would eviscerate the presumption of innocence and will greatly increase the number of presumptively innocent people who are subject to pretrial detention.


    Dramatically expands pretrial detention eligibility

    • This bill greatly expands the eligibility for indefinite preventative detention to include many more charges that are currently not bail eligible.  This will increase pretrial detention rates across the State.

    Allows remand in misdemeanor cases for the first time in New York’s history
    • The bill appears to create a new detention eligibility category for an undefined group of so-called “persistent offenders.”  A person can become eligible for remand whenever they are released pre-trial  on a class A misdemeanor involving alleged “harm to an identifiable person or property” and are arrested for a new alleged class A misdemeanor involving “harm to an identifiable person or property”.  This provision is particularly problematic as it is subject to broad and unfettered interpretation.  As we have seen in our state and in other states, this kind of authority results in indefinite pre-trial jailing for a broad category of people, especially those who suffer from mental illness, as well as others  who are targeted by law enforcement.  Again, this will result in mass incarceration of people of color.
    • Such a provision is even more regressive than our past bail laws; it would make huge numbers of people charged with misdemeanors subject to remand for the first time ever.


    Violates due process for people facing remand

    • Prosecutors can move to detain people at arraignment pending a detention hearing without even a probable cause finding.
    • Judges can pre-determine guilt by evaluating the “weight of the evidence”.  This provision flouts the presumption of innocence.
    • The defense is entitled to one subsequent hearing requesting release.  After that, there must be a “substantial change in circumstances.”  This provision, again, is regressive and curtails opportunities for review of arbitrary detention decisions.


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