NYS Legislative Agenda: Advance Criminal Justice Reform and Policies That Will Reduce Mass Incarceration

Advance Criminal Justice Reform and Policies That Will Reduce Mass Incarceration

Second Chance Amendment. Currently, New York Criminal Procedure Law § 440.20 permits a defendant to make a motion to set aside a sentence on the grounds that it was unauthorized, illegally imposed or otherwise invalid as a matter of law.  Although this provision offers an avenue for relief for some defendants, it does not permit a reduction of sentences that are valid but nonetheless excessive in light of the crime and the defendant’s individual circumstances, including evidence of meaningful rehabilitation while serving the initial sentence.  Any such claims regarding excessiveness can only be raised on direct appeal.  The Second Chance Amendment is designed to give individuals serving sentences of 10 years or more (excluding certain crimes) who are more than two years away from scheduled Conditional Release the chance to prove, part way through their sentences, that they deserve a reduction in sentence.  The amendment would allow a motion for reduction or modification of a sentence, only after the individual has served a specified portion of that sentence on the grounds that the sentence was greater than necessary to achieve the purposes of sentencing.  It would allow the presentation of evidence regarding the individual’s age, personal circumstances, and medical condition, as well as confinement record, including indicators of rehabilitation. *City Bar Proposal*  

Justice Safety Valve Act. This legislation would give judges and prosecutors the ability to impose and recommend sentences that fall below statutory mandatory minimums in cases where there are substantial and compelling reasons, giving due regard to the nature of the crime, history and character of the defendant and his or her chances of successful rehabilitation, such that the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence would result in a substantial injustice to the defendant and is not necessary for the protection of the public.  Under mandatory minimum sentencing, mitigating factors – no matter how compelling – cannot be used to justify a sentence below the statutory minimum because prosecutors and judges have no flexibility to go below the statutory floor in plea negotiations or sentencing.  This rigid sentencing structure leads to more people serving longer periods of incarceration which costs taxpayers more money and has not been shown to reduce recidivism. *City Bar Proposal*

Reexamine Mandatory Court Fees Imposed on Individuals Convicted of Criminal Offenses and Violations. When any person in New York is convicted of a crime or violation, the law requires that a judge impose certain mandatory surcharges and fees, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. The official goal of these surcharges and fees is to generate revenue, not to impose punishment. All proceeds from collection are deposited in the state treasury, making these fines and fees a ‘regressive tax’ on those who are often least able to pay.  Being subjected to fines and fees causes long-term harms to indigent defendants, such as lost wages, damaged credit, and seizure of property. And regulations make it all but impossible for defendants who are incarcerated while subject to surcharges to discharge their debts. Given that the aims of the criminal justice system are in no way advanced by these mandatory surcharges and fees, the Legislature should simply abolish them for all those convicted of a crime or violation, or, at a minimum, restructure them to be imposed on a sliding scale consistent with an individual defendant’s ability to pay. If the Legislature is unwilling to make these changes, the law should be amended to make it more equitable for indigent defendants. This includes: (1) allowing sentencing courts to waive fees which would result in hardship, and simplify the process by which courts can defer fees until after incarceratory terms are served; (2) excluding youthful offenders and those convicted only of violations from being subjected to any mandatory court fees;  and (3) consolidating mandatory fees for individuals taking a single plea on multiple crimes. 


A.5045S.3457 (allowing a court to waive certain surcharges and fees) – Signed by the Governor, Chp. 144 – August 24, 2020