The Innocence Project Calls on Albany to Reject Proposed Changes to Pretrial Justice
Punitive and discriminatory laws that result in over incarceration do not prevent crime and keep communities safe.
Campaign 04.03.23 By Innocence Staff
As negotiations in Albany enter the final hours, the Innocence Project calls on the state legislature to reject New York Governor Hochul’s proposed changes to the pretrial bail and discovery laws that will set back the course of justice for all New Yorkers. Key pretrial reforms put into place in 2019 repealed New York’s previously ineffective criminal discovery rules and implemented comprehensive bail reforms. The new discovery law removed the power from prosecutors to determine which evidence to share with the defense and for the first time afforded defense counsel the ability to thoroughly investigate cases, properly advise their clients and develop an effective defense. It also allowed a person facing charges to make an informed decision about whether or not to plead guilty. This is critically important given the reality that the criminal legal system pressures and coerces pleas from the innocent. Nearly 25% of the almost 3,300 people whose innocence has been revealed in the U.S. over the last 30 years pled guilty to crimes they did not commit. And nearly 75% of the innocent people who took a guilty plea are Black and brown.
The Innocence Project also calls on Albany to reject changes to the bail law. In addition to discovery, the inability to pay cash bail compels guilty pleas from too many innocent people. Guilty pleas, naturally, are more likely to be coerced from people who are incarcerated pretrial, which disproportionately affects people of color. Consider Jason Serrano, who was driving in Stapleton, Staten Island, when he was stopped and searched by police because of an alleged smell of marijuana in his car. Mr. Serrano, who was recovering from an abdominal injury, was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and left writing in pain. He awoke in a hospital, facing charges of resisting arrest and drug possession. To avoid being sent to Rikers Island, a veritable death sentence, Mr. Serrano pled guilty to resisting arrest. Then in 2019, airtight proof of his innocence emerged when body-worn camera footage showed the arresting officers planting drugs in his car. It was two years before his conviction was overturned.
We will never know how many Jason Serranos may be impacted by changes to the pretrial laws, but we do know that many innocent New Yorkers, overwhelmingly Black and brown, will pay the price. Punitive and discriminatory laws that result in over incarceration do not prevent crime and keep communities safe. The Innocence Project calls upon Albany to craft policy grounded in facts and not in fear. Changes to pretrial justice must be rejected.
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