Overhauls New York’s Antiquated Bail System, Ensures Access to Speedy Trial, Raises the Age of Criminal Responsibility and Improves Witness Identification Procedures
Governor Signs Two Executive Orders to Eliminate the Wage Gap
Launches the “We Are All Immigrants” Initiative to Expand Opportunity and Empower Immigrants in New York
Combats Hate Crimes with Joint Task Force and Encourages Tolerance with New Interfaith Advisory Council Led by Cardinal Dolan
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today proposed the “New York Promise” Agenda – a sweeping, unprecedented package of reforms to advance principles of social justice, affirm New York’s progressive values, and a set a national standard for protections against all forms of discrimination.
“At these stormy times of instability and confusion, New York must serve as a safe harbor for the progressive principles and social justice that made America,” Governor Cuomo said. “We will hold the torch high to light the way toward opportunity, because that is New York’s promise. This promise is not just in words but in actions and we will push even further to advance the social progress we have made and continue the fight.”
The “New York Promise” Agenda will:
Reform the Criminal Justice System: The Governor proposes a comprehensive set of reforms from arrest to trial that will ensure equal justice for all citizens. The Governor will advance the following new measures:
- Overhauling New York’s antiquated bail system
- Ensuring access to a speedy trial
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility
- Improving witness identification procedures
- Recording police interrogations for serious offenses
- Extending the Hurrell-Harring settlement reforms statewide
Eliminate the Wage Gap: Governor Cuomo signed two executive orders to put New York on the fast track to eliminate the wage gap. The concurrent executive orders will strengthen equal pay protections in New York by prohibiting all state entities from evaluating candidates based on their prior salary or asking prospective employees their wage history. New York will also require state contractors to disclose data on the gender, race and ethnicity of employees – leveraging taxpayer dollars to drive transparency and advance pay equity statewide.
Expand Opportunity to Immigrants: The "We Are All Immigrants” Initiative will support the success of immigrant families and communities in New York . The initiative includes:
- Implementing the Empire State Immigrant Defense Project;
- Expanding the naturalization services offered at the state’s Office of New Americans;
- Pressing for passage of the DREAM Act; and
- Convening the New York State Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrants to make recommendations that support the integration and success of immigrants and their families.
Combat Hate Crimes and Encourage Tolerance: The Governor will launch of a statewide Hate Crimes Task Force charged with investigating and deterring incidents of bias and discrimination. The Task Force includes members from New York State Police and the New York State Division of Human Rights, who will investigate hate crimes and conduct community outreach to educate New Yorkers of their rights. In addition, the Governor announced the formation of a new Interfaith Advisory Council, led by Cardinal Dolan, to help achieve a greater understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures, promote open-mindedness and inclusivity, and bolster the state’s efforts to protect all New Yorkers.
The New York Promise agenda also includes a series of actions, unveiled Sunday, to modernize New York’s voting system, including early voting, automatic voter registration and same day voter registration.
REFORMING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Reform Bail and Pretrial Detention
New York is currently only one of four states in the nation where judges cannot, by statute, consider whether an individual poses a threat to the public if released from jail prior to trial. This antiquated system, in effect, equates freedom with financial status, instead of considering whether a defendant poses an actual risk to society if released before trial.
This two-tiered system can result in the financially disadvantaged being confined for months, and even years, because they cannot post even a modest amount of bail. In New York City, for example, the median bail amount was $5,000 for felony offenses and $1,000 for misdemeanor offenses in 2015. Depending on an individual’s economic condition, these amounts could be easy to afford – leading to liberty – or simply impossible to afford – requiring incarceration. This is unfair and unjust.
To repair this broken system, Governor Cuomo is advancing a comprehensive series of reforms to allow judges to use a validated risk assessment as part of all pre-trial release determinations. Under the legislation, judges will use these to determine an individual’s risk to the public if released. This will ensure that low risk individuals can be released before their trial, high risk individuals remain behind bars, and low-income New Yorkers are not disproportionately punished in the criminal justice system. These assessments will be conducted by instruments that are validated, objective, and transparent to ensure that there is no bias in release determinations. Additionally, this will enhance public safety by ensuring that high-risk individuals are held and remain behind bars.
The Governor will also work to provide alternatives to pre-trial detention for low-risk individuals and examine the use of cash bail through an advisory committee. Judges should have more than two options when deciding whether someone should stay in jail or be released before their trial. Allowing judges to set conditions, such as reporting or monitoring, would decrease the number of people needlessly incarcerated while preserving public safety.
Ensure Access to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and state law guarantees all citizens accused of a crime have the right to a speedy and public trial. Too often, however, defendants are held in custody, pre-trial, for excessive periods of time and courts are overburdened with the number of pending criminal cases. This leads to backlogs that disrupt the justice system and have a disparate impact on low-income and minority communities.
To restore the integrity in the justice system, New York will implement new reform measures to ensure that criminal cases proceed to trial without undue delay and that people are not held in jail for unreasonable periods of time.
The Governor is advancing legislation which will reduce unnecessary delays and adjournments in court proceedings. The proposed legislation will require that people held in custody – not only their attorneys – consent to a speedy trial waiver that must also be approved by a judge. These waivers will also only be granted after the detained defendant has made an appearance before a judge. All speedy trial waivers will be required to include a deadline so that the defendant, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges understand when the trial is scheduled and do not allow delays in the case to clog the court’s calendar.
The Governor will also work with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to develop an effective administrative approach as well as to recommend additional legislative steps to ensure the constitutional right to a speedy trial is realized across New York State. The goal will be to develop guidance and propose legislative measures aimed at eliminating needless confusion, increasing fairness in judicial proceedings, and ensuring every New Yorker’s right to a speedy trial.
Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility
New York stands as one of only two states in the nation that process all 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system, no matter their offense. Currently in New York, of the 27,000 teenagers arrested in 2015, approximately 86 percent of these youth were arrested for non-violent crimes. These teenagers enter the adult criminal justice system where they face potential imprisonment in local county jails or state prisons.
The adult criminal justice system is no place for young people. In New York State, there are approximately 500 people under the age of 18 in local jails and state prisons. Without age-appropriate facilities and programs, these teenagers face a greater risk of being involved in a significant assault, being a victim of sexual violence, and committing suicide.
Over the past three years, Governor Cuomo has taken dramatic action to address this injustice. In 2014, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice to provide recommendations to modernize New York’s criminal and juvenile justice systems and ensure that young people receive the services and rehabilitation they need to become productive, successful adults. In 2015, Governor Cuomo accepted the Commission’s recommendations and joined advocates to call on the state legislature to pass Raise the Age legislation to process 16- and 17-year olds as juveniles for all crimes except those involving serious violence, and offer rehabilitative services to all minors. Later that year, after the legislature failed to act, the Governor issued Executive Order No. 150 that directed the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in collaboration with the Office of Children and Family Services, to implement a plan to remove minors from adult prisons and place them in a new age-appropriate facility.
This year, Governor Cuomo is renewing his call to Raise the Age once and for all. The Governor will introduce legislation to ensure that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit less serious crimes receive necessary intervention and evidence-based treatment. Those who commit serious crimes will still be held accountable but will have their cases heard by specially trained judges. Moreover, these young people will have access to specialized services which will reduce recidivism rates, lower youth crime rates, and provide significant public safety benefits for all New Yorkers.
Improve Witness Identification Procedures
Mistaken eyewitness identification has been identified as the leading contributor to wrongful convictions. Research indicates that, when done properly, identification procedures are most reliable when conducted closest to the time of the crime or sighting and the first procedure where a suspect can be identified. Oftentimes, these identifications are made using a photo array – a series of images displayed to a victim or witness of a crime to confirm or deny the identity of a suspect. These can be highly effective to confirm whether a person was, in fact, involved in a crime – helping protect innocent people from arrest and conviction, and hold the guilty accountable. New York, however, is the only state in the nation which prohibits, by law, a jury from hearing evidence of an identification made by a witness using a photo array.
It is time for New York State to address this deficiency in the criminal justice system. To increase the accuracy and reliability of witness identification. Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to allow the use of photo identifications made by witnesses at trial where the identification procedures were conducted using proper safeguards, such as “blind” and “blinded” administration. This change will ensure juries have the most reliable evidence to base their decisions on. This reform – based upon agreement between the Innocence Project, District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, and New York State Bar Association – will improve the integrity of identification procedures and enhance public safety by safeguarding against wrongful convictions and ensuring that criminals are held responsible.
Record Police Interrogations for Serious Offenses
New York does not currently require that interrogations of criminal suspects be recorded by law enforcement agencies. Interrogations are vital to a criminal case because they often provide the needed evidence to convict guilty defendants and exonerate innocent defendants. However, there are cases where people are wrongfully convicted based on false confessions and instances where police officers are wrongfully accused of coercion. It is widely agreed among criminal justice stakeholders that the video recording of police interrogations for criminal investigations is a highly effective means to combating the possibility of a false confession or coercion by law enforcement. New York State must act to protect the integrity and reliability of information obtained through the questioning of criminal suspects.
Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation to increase transparency and strengthen the people’s faith in the justice system by requiring law enforcement to video-record custodial interrogations of suspects for serious offenses, including homicide, kidnapping and sex offenses. The proposed legislation is based on an agreement between the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, the Innocence Project, and the New York State Bar Association. Since 2013, the state has supported this common-sense measure with more than $3 million in funding, with additional support from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys’ offices to purchase and install video recording equipment, increase the number of rooms available to record statements at an agency, and add data storage capacity for existing equipment.
Extend the Hurrell-Harring Settlement Reforms for Indigent Defendants to the Entire State
The provision of quality criminal defense by the government to individuals who cannot otherwise afford counsel is of paramount importance, as the United States Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright and its progeny. Still, accounts of individuals receiving vastly disparate levels of court appointed representation are heard all too often. The quality of the representation provided to those who cannot afford an attorney must not vary from county to county. The state must ensure that these critical services are provided consistently at a uniformly high level statewide.
In 2014, the state successfully negotiated an agreement in Hurrell-Harring et al. v. State of New York et al., a lawsuit filed against the state and five counties based upon an alleged failure to provide the necessary level of indigent defense services in those counties, to bring true reform to public defense systems that were failing. There is no reason why these critical leaps in the provision of indigent defense should not be provided in every county of the state.
To ensure fair and equal representation for all accused individuals, Governor Cuomo will introduce a plan for the state to fund one hundred percent of the costs necessary to extend the reforms provided for in the Hurrell-Harring settlement to all the state’s counties and the City of New York, with appropriate fiscal oversight through the Division of Budget.
ELIMINATING THE WAGE GAP.
Based on most recent data, women in New York earn 87 cents on the dollar in comparison to what men earn. Women of color, compared to white men, fare worse: African-American women earn on average 69 cents on the dollar and Latinas 58 cents on the dollar.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015 there were 12 million single parent families in the United States – more than 80 percent of them headed by single mothers. In New York, more than a third of children across the state are growing up in single-parent families. Moreover, a McKinsey report estimates that full labor force parity would lead to an additional $4.3 trillion to U.S. GDP by 2025.
State government must lead by example and ensure equal pay for all New Yorkers. To strengthen pay equity statewide, Governor Cuomo signed the following executive orders:
Executive Order 161
Executive Order No. 161 prohibits state entities from asking the salary history of prospective employees. As companies tend to base salary offers on a candidate’s prior salary history, this measure will break the cycle of unfair compensation so that individuals, primarily women and minorities, are not disadvantaged throughout the course of their entire career.
A candidate for employment at any state entity does not have to provide his or her current compensation, or any prior compensation history, until he or she is extended a conditional offer of employment with compensation. Once a conditional offer has been extended, a state entity may then request and verify compensation information. If a state entity is already in possession of an applicant’s prior compensation, the information may not be relied upon in determining the prospective employees salary, unless required by law or collective bargaining agreement. The Governor’s Office of Employee Relations will monitor and oversee this process and train relevant human resources staff from state entities on the requirements of the new measure.
Executive Order 162
Executive Order No. 162 requires all state contractors to disclose data on the gender, race, ethnicity, job title, and salary of all its employees in all state contracts, agreements, and procurements issued and executed on or after June 1, 2017. Contracts and procurements issued on or after that date must include a provision identifying this additional requirement. Additionally, subcontractors must also provide the same information for their employees. This information will be reported to state agencies and authorities on a quarterly basis for prime contracts having a value in excess of $25,000, except for prime construction contracts having a value in excess of $100,000, which shall be reported on a monthly basis. This will leverage taxpayer dollars to drive transparency and progress toward wage equity.
The announcement builds on the Governor’s sweeping Women’s Equality Act, signed in 2015, which strengthened pay equity protections in New York by prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who share wage information and increasing damages and penalties for employers who underpay their workers because of gender, race or ethnicity. The legislation also enhanced human trafficking laws and protections for domestic violence victims, and ended pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces.
EXPANDING OPPORTUNITY TO IMMIGRANTS
The “We Are All Immigrants” Initiative
The "We Are All Immigrants” Initiative features a comprehensive package of proposals to expand opportunity to immigrants:
- Empire State Immigrant Defense Fund: Governor Cuomo will launch the first-in-the-nation, state-led, public-private legal defense project to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to representation and due process, regardless of their citizenship status. This initiative will be administered by the State’s Office for New Americans in partnership with advocacy organizations, major colleges and universities, law firms, and legal associations around the state.
- Expand Naturalization Services through the New York State Office for New Americans: The first state-level office in the nation focused on increasing immigrants’ participation in civic and economic life, ONA will build on the success of the first-in-the-nation NaturalizeNY public/private partnership announced last July by holding another lottery to help an additional 1,500 eligible immigrant New Yorkers become U.S. citizens and cover the cost of their naturalization applications. NaturalizeNY provides comprehensive support through the naturalization process, including free eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation and naturalization application fee vouchers for low-income citizenship-eligible immigrants. Nearly one million New Yorkers are eligible to become U.S. citizens today, but many are unable to do so because they cannot afford the federal processing fee, which increased to $725 in December. While an estimated 464,000 New Yorkers qualify to have this processing fee waived by the federal government based on their income, there are an additional 158,000 New Yorkers who do not qualify for the waiver, but for whom the fee is still a barrier to naturalization.
- Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrants: To support the successful integration of immigrants and their families, Governor Cuomo will convene the New York State Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrants. The panel will be comprised of New Yorkers whose own stories reflect the richness and depth of success that immigrants have had in our state. The panel will assess the current landscape of state services that support the integration of immigrant families and make recommendations on how to better align resources to support newcomers.
- Advance Passage of the Dream Act: Governor Cuomo will advance the DREAM Act to finally open the doors of higher education to thousands of New Yorkers. The DREAM Act will give undocumented students access to the Tuition Assistance Program, as well as state-administered scholarships, helping them make even greater contributions to our community. Since 2002, undocumented students have qualified for in-state tuition at SUNY and CUNY if they graduated from a New York high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in the state. Yet, each year, many talented students remain unable to fulfill their potential, simply because they lack access to tuition assistance to help pay for school.
Advancing Immigrant Success in New York
Since taking office, the Governor signed a wide-reaching Executive Order to ensure language access across state agencies, suspended the State’s participation in a federal program that required local law enforcement to help identify deportable individuals, signed legislation holding entities that defraud immigrants accountable, and established the Office for New Americans. As Attorney General, Governor Cuomo also worked to combat immigration fraud, having utilized general civil rights laws to successfully investigate and prosecute companies for defrauding immigrants. He also secured court judgments and settlements in excess of $23 million dollars on behalf of the State's immigrant population.
New York State is home to over 4.4 million immigrants, representing one out of every five New Yorkers. Immigrants contribute significantly to our state’s economy as business owners, workers, consumers, and taxpayers.
COMBATING HATE CRIMES AND ENCOURAGING TOLERANCE
Establishing Statewide Hate Crimes Task Force
Following an increase in recent reports of discrimination, bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence, the agreement provides for the creation of a statewide Hate Crimes Task Force. The workgroup will be composed of members of the State Police, who will be directly tasked with preventing, investigating and detecting hate crimes throughout the state within the Penal Law. The Division of Human Rights will be part of the Task Force to inform individuals of their rights and remedies including penalties for discrimination.
Further, the Task Force will work with counties leaders, district attorneys, school district leaders, local police departments and other key stakeholders to identify bias related trends, discriminatory practices and community based vulnerabilities within each county.
Currently, under state law, a person commits a hate crime when one of a specified set of offenses is committed targeting a victim because of a perception or belief about their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, or when such an act is committed as a result of that type of perception or belief. Hate crimes can be perpetrated against an individual, a group of individuals or against public or private property. Under state law it is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, ethnicity and many other protected classifications.
Launching the Tolerance and Understanding Initiative
The Governor launched “The Tolerance and Understanding Initiative” to advance the state’s efforts to protect civil rights and combat hate speech that encourages fear and violence.
The initiative includes an Interfaith Advisory Council, comprised of religious leaders, which will convene meetings with state officials and community leaders at religious institutions across the state. The Council will be led by Cardinal Dolan and will offer guidance to state officials on issues of public discord, such as violence or human rights violations committed against individuals because of their faith, or other identities. The council will promote greater understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures, promote open-mindedness and inclusivity, and bolster the state’s efforts to protect all New Yorkers.
In November 2016, Governor Cuomo launched a toll-free hotline to report incidents of bias and discrimination across the state. To date, a total of 2,182 calls have been received by the hotline and referred to the appropriate agencies to follow up on complaints and allegations of discrimination and bias. Additionally, a total of 86 calls were referred to the State Police to investigate as well as offer assistance to other law enforcement agencies investigating potential hate crimes.
That same month, the Governor announced he would advance legislation that expands the protections of New York State’s Human Rights Law to all students statewide. Under current law, only private school students are protected by the Human Rights Law, meaning that if a public school student is discriminated against in school, that student has no claim.