For decades, New York’s system of money bail resulted in countless instances of unjust pretrial detention. The old law had established a two-tiered system of justice that saw poor individuals detained pretrial for days, months, or even years while the wealthy awaited trial at home. New Yorkers routinely faced high bail amounts, requiring thousands of dollars to remain out of jail even for misdemeanors. Despite decreasing jail populations in New York City, jail populations outside of the city have increased or remained high due in large part to money bail.
On January 1, 2020, New York eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies and provided judges with the ability to implement non monetary pretrial conditions for most people at arraignment. Under the new law, fewer lives are upended by an unjust system while community safety is supported and enhanced.
Prior to January 1, 2020, New York prosecutors could withhold key evidence from the defense until the night before trial. Furthermore, prosecutors were not required to turn over any evidence to the defense in advance of an individual entering a plea agreement.
Under these practices, individuals facing criminal charges, and their legal representatives, were unable to prepare successful defenses. And it is well established that this “blindfold” over the defense has resulted in wrongful convictions. Additionally, the lack of discovery has played a significant role in rendering the sacrosanct right to trial irrelevant in New York: Over 95% of New York criminal court dispositions come not through a constitutionally guaranteed jury trial, but from a plea deals made without the benefit of good information.
Recently, New York has implemented new discovery laws that require prosecution to present the defense with evidence in a timely and efficient manner. These critical changes will help protect people from wrongful convictions, ensure actual criminal actors are held accountable instead of the innocent, and make our justice system stronger.