Syringe Decriminalization & Restricting Handcuff Use in Family Court: Recently Enacted Legislation

Last week, Governor Hochul signed two pieces of legislation into law that have been supported by City Bar committees for a number of years.  For an updated list of City Bar policy successes during the 2021 New York State legislative session, click here

The first bill will (1) decriminalize the possession of any hypodermic syringe or needle that contains a residual amount of a controlled substance, (2) decriminalize possessing or selling a hypodermic needle or syringe, and (3) amend the general business law to remove all objects used for the purpose of injecting a controlled substance into the human body from the definition of drug related paraphernalia. Initially supported by the Drugs and the Law Committee and former HIV/AIDS Committee in 2015,  the position was most recently reaffirmed by the Mass Incarceration Task Force, Corrections and Community Reentry Committee and Criminal Justice Operations Committee in their report “A Pathway Out of Mass Incarceration And Towards a New Criminal Justice System: Recommendations for the New York State Legislature.” The Committees believe that these important modifications to New York’s laws will help stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Removing the legal barriers to widespread Secondary Syringe Exchange will expand syringe access to the most vulnerable and marginalized injection-drug users. In addition, decriminalizing harm reduction equipment, such as syringes, is a means to reduce the current population of incarcerated individuals and end ineffective methods of attempting to prevent drug use.

The second bill was supported by the Family Court & Family Law Committee, Juvenile Justice Committee, Council on Children and Children & the Law Committee. The new law will further restrict the use of restraints on children appearing before New York State Family Court. The state courts and federal courts in New York have both recognized that indiscriminate shackling of participants in court proceedings violates basic constitutional rights and cannot be permitted. Despite clear pronouncements from the courts, indiscriminate shackling of youth continues in New York Family Court. This legislation will be particularly important in light of New York raising the age of criminal responsibility, which will result in many more juveniles appearing before Family Court.