Streamlining Assignment of Appellate Counsel for Indigent Criminal Defendants: New Law

A new law supported by the Criminal Justice Operations Committee, Criminal Courts Committee and Mass Incarceration Task Force will streamline the assignment of appellate counsel for indigent criminal defendants. The law will bring the practice for criminal appeals in the intermediate appellate courts into line with the system that already works in other contexts, including family court appeals, criminal appeals to the Court of Appeals, federal courts and the courts of other states. At the intermediate appellate court level, unlike other courts, an indigent person is required to file a motion with the appellate court establishing that the appellant remains indigent, which requires the filing of detailed, sworn affidavits, even if the person was represented by assigned counsel below — a process that can be difficult for the attorney if the client is being moved from local to state custody during the period when the motion must be filed, and for which public defender offices assisting clients in filing such applications are not compensated. Given these hurdles, indigent defendants often must file in forma pauperis motions on their own, which can lead to repeated applications, additional expense and delay, or failure to obtain appellate counsel altogether.

In a statement issued by the bill’s sponsors — Assembly Member Catalina Cruz and Senator Jamaal Bailey — Criminal Justice Operation Chair Tess M. Cohen stated: “This new law will not only lead to gains in efficiency in the criminal justice system, it will also ensure that extremely vulnerable people – indigent people convicted of crimes – are not denied their constitutional right to appeal merely because they are poor. We applaud the bill’s enactment.”  We thank the sponsors for their leadership on this issue.

For a full list of bills supported by the City Bar during the 2021 NYS Legislative Session that have been enacted to date, click here.