The two measures will expand access to jury trials for misdemeanors and will expand admissibility of certain statements in court proceedings.
A pair of bills from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz to reform the New York State court system have been signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul. The first bill (A4319) will take effect on July 1, 2022, and removes a fifty-year old section of law that denied New York City residents the right to a jury trial in cases where the charge carried a penalty of imprisonment for up to six months. The second bill (A8040) will take effect immediately and will bring New York’s hearsay exception into consistency with the Federal Rule of Evidence. Both bills were carried by State Senator Brad Hoylman in the State Senate.
The expansion of jury trial access follows a New York State Court of Appeals decision (People v. Suazo, 2018 NY Slip Op 08056, November 27, 2018) that held a noncitizen charged with a B misdemeanor (which carried a penalty of deportation if he were convicted) was entitled to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United State Constitution. Class B misdemeanors in New York may carry a sentence of up to three months in jail if convicted. This Court of Appeals decision highlighted a geographical disparity in access to jury trials, which were already guaranteed to defendants outside of New York City regardless of the potential sentence. Under the new law, all New Yorkers now have the right to a jury trial for misdemeanor charges, although defendants retain their option under existing law to waive that right in favor of a bench trial. This legislation passed the Assembly by a margin of 148-1 and the State Senate by a margin of 63-0.
The relaxation of hearsay statements to allow a party’s agent or employee to testify in contexts where such a statement was made within the scope of an employment or agency relationship that existed at the time of the statement is a change first requested by the Chief Administrative Judge upon the recommendation of his Advisory Committee on Civil Practice. Prior analysis of several Appellate Division cases indicated that there was an overly strict view on who had speaking authority, resulting in a tendency to only allow high levels of management – even if the statement made relates to an activity that the lower-level person was directly tasked with handling. The new law allows New York courts to accept hearsay statements that are generally admissible in Federal court. This legislation passed the Assembly by a margin of 110-39 and the State Senate by a margin of 47-16.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “New Yorkers deserve to have unfettered access to our court system, and these two laws help move us closer to that goal. Our core principles of justice require that everyone have access to a trial by jury of their peers and that everyone has a right to present evidence on their own behalf. I am proud to have pushed these two reforms across the finish line, and am thank you to Governor Hochul for signing them into law.”