A Name And A Law In Need Of Fixing

There was no question that New York’s speedy trial law, Criminal Procedure Law § 30.30, was a wreck.  It had long been gamed by prosecutors, with the willing acquiescence of judges who shrugged and said “meh, what do you want me to do?”  This was no secret, and was publicly laid bare in a New Yorker article by Jennifer Gonnerman.

And people “oohed” and “aahed,” and nothing was done about it.

Now that Kalief Browder committed suicide, there is a dead young man after whom a law can be named, too tempting for politicians to ignore. And so was born “Kalief’s Law,” because they could.

State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry announced legislation (S.5988) to fix New York State’s “speedy trial” law following the recent death of Kalief Browder, who spent three years in pre-trial detention at Riker’s Island. Kalief’s Law closes a legal loophole that forces defendants to endure significant delays before trial, even while in jail, despite the time limits established by law. This change will limit delays by prosecutors and the court, so that defendants are afforded their constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Certainly, the law needed fixing. It needed fixing before Browder’s story went public. It needed fixing afterward. It needs fixing still. Now that Kalief is dead, he gets a law. Why is that what it takes for a problematic law to get a little attention?

But a law named after a dead young man, and addressing a long-standing problem that no one cared about before, except those of us who actually dealt with the consequences, doesn’t make it a good law.  If this is the time to fix statutory speedy trial, then it needs to be fixed right. Who knows how long it will be before another sympathetic young man dies so it will be noticed again?

In their press release, Squadron and Aubry offer this cure:

Under current statute, prosecutors are allowed to declare “readiness” for trial simply by stating they are ready. At the very next court date, the People can declare themselves “not ready” and ask for an adjournment. Yet, even though it may take multiple weeks to get a court date, the prosecution is only clocked for the adjournment period it requested. Kalief’s Law will reduce undue delay by requiring the court to approve exclusions to the speedy trial clock. The bill will also ensure that a statement of “readiness” by the People is real by tying it to discovery, requiring the People to present evidence that they are in fact ready for trial, while allowing flexibility when the facts merit additional time.

Sounds like a plan, but what does it mean? The actual text of the changes tells the story.  This is the gist of the amendment:


Seems legit, unless you happen to actually practice law in the criminal courts of New York, in which case, not so much.  Initially, an announcement of readiness now is pretty much exactly the same, as the prosecution, referred to as “the People” in the law because it makes them sound more likeable, except perhaps that they must now “affirm” it rather than announce it.

What that means is unclear; will the judge interrupt the prosecutor when he says, “the People are ready for trial,” and say, “but do you affirm that?”  Officially, an affirmation carries the weight of perjury on its shoulders, though a deliberate misrepresentation to the court is similarly subject to sanction. Not that it happens, except in the rarest of instances.

The most significant change would appear to be the requirement that the prosecution can’t announce readiness without certifying that they’ve complied with discovery. In the past, they announced readiness first, knowing full well it meant nothing because the defense still needed discovery before they could even think of going to trial.  This would appear to end this practice.

But it’s more a matter of appearance than substance. Prosecutors routinely hand over a “Voluntary Disclosure Form” with an indictment at arraignment, which, they contend, satisfies their discovery obligations. First, it does not, but rarely does a judge care. Second, New York’s discovery statute is so limited as to be nearly worthless anyway. And third, it will change nothing in practice.

So while the changes create the appearance of movement, it will do nothing to change the practice beyond, perhaps, forcing prosecutors to use more formal words than now. Even this is unlikely, as formal mantras are routinely ignored anyway.  And the final sentence, allowing defense counsel to waive everything anyway, is ripe for shenanigans.

Want a plea offer? Waive 30.30. Don’t waive? Go to trial. All hell will break loose.

But there is another piece to the problem, and to the amendments, because once the prosecution announces readiness, they are only responsible for the limited periods of time of “unreadiness” they claim. In other words, if they are missing a witness on Monday, they can ask for an adjournment to Wednesday, knowing full well that the case will be adjourned for a month.  Yet, they are only charged with two days delay, and the rest of the delay is excluded as court congestion.


What is meant by “accompanied by supporting facts” is unclear. So the ADA says it’s the cop’s RDO (regular day off), or the assigned assistant has been sent out to trial by another judge? Aside from neither being a good excuse, it’s already done. As to whether claims are accurate, nothing that happens in a courthouse is ever absolute, so it would be essentially impossible to prove they lied, as there is always an excuse why a claimed problem didn’t happen.

But mostly, these changes rely on prosecutors being honest about readiness and delay, and judges caring enough to hold them to their duty to be ready for trial. This is, theoretically, always the case, and it hasn’t yet fixed anything.  Changing the law to tell prosecutors and judges to be “really, really honest” about being ready is just more of the same. But the law is named after Kalief Browder, so it must be good.


16 thoughts on “A Name And A Law In Need Of Fixing

  1. Noxx

    Making political hay while the blood flows is a grand tradition. The soap box is a fairy tale, the traditional platform upon which our leaders hoist themselves to address the masses is a corpse, of course.

    Nothing is achieved, but the papers sell.

  2. John Barleycorn

    Is Lippman having a summer solstice party this weekend? If so, you should crash it and get drunk with him.

    Why just the other day he was excusing expressions, who knows, if you get him buzzed, you might be able to talk him into insisting the judges in New York forget about excusing their expressions and concentrate on making some rulings.

    “It’s so obvious that our bail system—excuse the expression—is totally ass-backwards in every respect,”

    New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman just the other day.

    P.S. There is a time to rant, there is a time to drink, and every once in awhile there is a time to drink and rant.

  3. Alex Stalker

    Don’t forget, now that they’ve “fixed” the rule, if your defendant languishes in jail awaiting trial now it’s your fault as a lazy defense attorney.

  4. Nick

    What is wrong with just establishing strict time deadlines?
    In California, it is 30 days from arraignment on a misdo, 10 days on a felony prelim, and 60 days for a felony trial (waivable by the defendant only). It is one of the few things about California’s system that actually works correctly.
    And somehow, we don’t have oodles of cases dismissed due to the time limit, it just gets done.

  5. dm

    There once was a man named DA,
    Before the judge he would always plié,
    He incessantly claimed ready for trial,
    The words dripping with bile,
    These delays are a major problem.

        1. John Barleycorn

          Speaking of trying..

          You know if Fubar quit his day job and became a limerick terrorist he could support himself by writing children’s books on his lunch hour.

          If he tried doing this, in no time at all he would be invited on the Charlie Rose show. While there he could ‘drop the word’ in the greenroom that the esteemed one should appear on the Charlie Rose show too, to talk about his efforts at SJ and other places. Then the esteemed one could get booked on all the Sunday Morning TV shows.

          After a year or so of doing this, all the powers that be might start paying attention and then, just like that, all these criminal justice quagmires and injustices could be straightened out and I could find a new hobby.

          But if that doesn’t happen I think I might have to go back to my late night fringe correlation and drunken quests to find the perfect analogy commenting style comments just to balance out all this one upmanship with limericks going on in the back pages around here lately.

          It’s damn near like there is some graphic artists rendition of Fubar in bronze standing atop the “did this post hurt your feelings” button and everyone is tripping balls and pondering if there might be some sort of limerick king of the hill game going on back here.


          What the hell ever happened to the good old fashion anger comments thinly disguised as snark and or sarcasm, the straight up bulldozer vents, or the no frills rants in the SJ comment section?

          Everyone has to just stop trying with the limericks already.

          There is only one king of the limerick and his name is Fubar so stop trying already to fuck up beyond all recognition the rhythmic glow glue that the gods gave to Fubar which he sometimes is kind enough to share with us when he isn’t spending time doing his day job that he should quit to become a terrorist.


          P.S. Nothing personal dm and please excuse the timing of my Friday cocktail toot. You actually look like a pretty decent chap.

          1. dm

            With the leave of SHG.

            There once was a man named Barelycorn,
            On Friday he couldn’t help but toot his horn,
            “You’re limericks are crap,
            Filled with too much pap,”
            Okay, message received, I promise I’m done with the “rhymes.”

        2. Fubar

          Meh. I’ve only tried a few, perhaps I’ll get better!

          The world’s best kept secrets hide in plain sight. Key word: few.

          My mantra, whispered in my ear by an old guy with a funny hat, who lived in a Tibetan cave with a hive of turquoise bees:

          Talent never develops a skill,
          Only practice. Then add overkill:
          Think in rhyme, scansion, form.
          When your verse fits that norm,
          You’ve got Lim’rick! Then deep-six your swill.

  6. John Barleycorn

    Well, I thought that little roll correlation was pretty good. Sometimes it’s not about the post but the perpetration.

    Anyway, hope you clicked the link and gave it enough patience.

    If not whack this one but not without a listen all the way through.

    These guys have some technical mastery and as the figure out what to do with the spices you might want to pause for a listen.

    P.S. I shit you not about opera. I will conceded and only float that once a year but just saying….


    1. SHG Post author

      The opera is never going to see the light here. Float it all you want. Ain’t happening. I have standards.

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