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State Assembly passes ‘Kalief’s Law’ to reform pretrial detention

Stephon Johnson | 6/9/2016, 12:18 p.m.
Last week, the New York State Assembly passed law S 5988-A /A 8296-A, known as “Kalief’s Law,” to reform New ...
Kalief Browder

Last week, the New York State Assembly passed law S 5988-A /A 8296-A, known as “Kalief’s Law,” to reform New York’s speedy trial provision and improve the effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system, ensuring that people aren’t unjustly held in pretrial detention for longer than needed.

“For too long, the constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial has been denied in New York. Our broken Rockefeller-era law does nothing to guarantee to a speedy trial for the accused,” stated New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who cosponsored the bill with Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry. “In fact, it does the exact opposite, protecting a system that too often delays justice at the cost of defendants, victims and the taxpayers.”

The law is named after Kalief Browder, a young Black man who was accused of stealing a backpack and spent more than 1,000 days in Rikers Island’s pretrial detention center, which included approximately 700 days in solitary confinement. His case was eventually dismissed. Browder publicized his experience via interviews and wanted to highlight the broken system that led him down his path. In 2015, Browder committed suicide as a result of his ongoing depression from his experience on Rikers Island.

The Sixth Amendment—the right to a speedy trial—is implemented in New York State through Criminal Procedure Law 30.30. But the law contains loopholes that, when added to significant court backlogs, lead to long delays for people who were charged with but not convicted of a crime. Many of these people, like Browder, spend years in pretrial detention before having their day in court.

Activists praised the passing of “Kalief’s Law” by the Assembly.

“The bill’s passage in the Assembly by the overwhelming margin of 138-2 shows that our lawmakers are finally hearing the voices of the many organizations and thousands of activists who have been fighting for a more just criminal justice system,” said Glenn Martin, president and founder of JustLeadership USA. “We call on the Senate to take up and pass S.5998-A as soon as possible and make the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution’s promise of a speedy trial a reality in New York.”

“It’s clear that New York’s criminal justice system is broken,” added Gabriel Sayegh, the cofounder and co-director of Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice. “This important legislation, sponsored by longtime reform champion Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry and passed by the Assembly under Speaker Heastie’s leadership, is a huge step in the right direction. It will fix a glaring problem in New York’s trial process, making it more fair and just, while saving taxpayers money by reducing unnecessary pretrial detention periods.”

With the passage of “Kalief’s Law” by the New York State Assembly, it’s now up to the New York State Senate to follow suit. According to Squadron, he filed a Motion for Committee Consideration to force a vote on the bill by the Senate Codes Committee, but the Senate Republican majority refused to schedule a vote.

They have until this Friday to add “Kalief’s Law” to the books.