Queens Senators Back ‘Roadmap’ to Reform Justice System

April 18, 2019

Two Queens State Senators have partnered with a coalition of more than two dozen criminal justice and immigrants rights organizations to introduce the “Justice Roadmap,” a slate of legislative priorities and specific bills designed to reform state courts, jails and legal proceedings.

State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris have both signed on to the coalition, which announced the measures outside Manhattan Supreme Court Thursday.

“The Justice Roadmap is a progressive and bold platform, and together with my colleagues and with advocates we can work to pass legislation to reduce unnecessary arrests, keep ICE out of our communities and address structural injustices in the criminal justice and immigration systems,” Ramos said. “Together, with advocates and legislators working together, we can tackle serious structural inequities in our society.”

Ramos is sponsoring the One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act, which would amend New York Penal Law to shorten the maximum jail sentences for class A misdemeanors from 365 days to 364 days. Criminal sentences of a year or more can trigger deportation proceedings for non-citizens.

“Misdemeanors carry an aura of reduced severity, and often, the defendants facing them are offered fewer procedural protections than those facing more serious charges,” said defense attorney Rhiya Trivedi, who recently appealed for a one-day reduction on behalf of a client in Queens Criminal Court. The Queens DA’s Office refused the one-day sentence reduction, Trivedi said.

“To allow permanent residents to face what may be the most severe of consequences — exile — for these so called less serious crimes is fundamentally wrong,” she added.

State Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, Zellnor Myrie, Jamaal Bailey and Brad Hoylman have also publicly supported the Justice Roadmap reform package.

The platform includes reducing unconstitutional and unnecessary stops and arrests and holding police accountable through reforms like repealing 50a, which shields NYPD disciplinary records from public review.

In addition, the coalition calls on the state to reduce the use of cash bail, pass open discovery and increase trial speed.

“New York’s unjust bail, discovery and speedy trial laws violate the presumption of innocence, wreak havoc on impacted people and their families, and coerce plea deals, some of which then lead to mandatory detention and deportation,” the coalition wrote in the Justice Roadmap manifesto.

The Protect Our Courts Act is also part of the proposed reforms. The Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan District Attorneys have each expressed their support for the bill, which would prevent ICE agents from arresting people inside New York State courthouses or on their way to or from court without a judicial warrant or court order.

ICE agents currently justify arrests by using “administrative warrants” that are not signed by a judge, do not necessarily name a suspect and are issued by ICE itself.

“ICE’s presence in New York’s courts is jeopardizing our criminal justice system and putting everyone in our state at risk,” said Immigrant Defense Project Executive Director Alisa Wellek in a statement. “ICE agents have been operating outside the guidelines the agency has set for itself and we desperately need a law that makes it clear that victims, witnesses and defendants have the right to a fair day in court. That is the just thing to do and a necessary step to restore faith in our court system.”

ICE arrests in and around New York courthouses increased by 1700 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. Queens and Brooklyn account for the highest number of courthouse ICE arrests in the state, the report reveals. In 2018, there were at least 33 ICE arrests in and around Queens courts. There were 35 in and around Brooklyn courts.

The coalition of community organizations that developed the Justice Roadmap includes the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Corrections Accountability Project, Drug Policy Alliance, Empire Justice Center, Families for Freedom, Immigrant Defense Project, JustLeadershipUSA, LatinoJustice, Legal Aid Society, Make the Road New York, HALT Solitary, New York Communities for Change, New York Immigration Coalition, Parole Preparation Project, Prison Families Anonymous, Release Aging People from Prison and Youth Represent.