Advocates urge Gov. Hochul to sign Jury and Criminal Record Confidentiality Acts

June 12, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
FILE - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks in Syracuse, N.Y., April 25, 2024. Gov. Hochul says she regrets making an offhand remark that suggested Black children in the Bronx do not know what the word “computer” means. The Democratic governor made the extemporaneous comment Monday, May 6, 2024 while being interviewed at a large business conference in California. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, file)
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The Legal Action Center (LAC) is advocating for Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign two bills they say will help to reduce the lasting impact of conviction records in New York State — the Jury of Our Peers Act and the Maintaining Criminal Record Confidentiality Act into law. 

Sponsored by Sen. Cordell Cleare and Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, the Jury of Our Peers Act (S. 206a/A1432c) seeks to end the lifetime ban on jury service for individuals with felony convictions. 

Despite the constitutional guarantee of a “jury of one’s peers,” many Black New Yorkers have been excluded from jury service due to discriminatory policing and sentencing, according to LAC. In Manhattan, 40 percent of otherwise eligible Black men are disqualified from jury service because of felony convictions. This act aims to enhance civic participation, reintegrate justice-involved individuals, and create more representative juries.

“This bill will make more diverse juries, which have been found to ask more questions, spend more time deliberating, consider more of the evidence, and even engage in discussion about their own prejudices,” said Megan French-Marcelin, senior director of NYS Policy at LAC.

The Maintaining Criminal Record Confidentiality Act (S.940/A.6637), sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, adds language to the Human Rights and Education Laws to prevent unauthorized entities from requiring individuals to purchase and hand over their personal criminal record reviews.

These records, provided by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), may contain sealed case information. The act will ensure entities use appropriate channels for criminal record checks, safeguarding individuals’ privacy and the provisions of the Clean Slate Act.

“This bill will eliminate the potential for implicit bias and discrimination based on confidential case information and ensure the full realization of Clean Slate,” said KB White, legal fellow at LAC, explaining the significance of the bill.

Other bills advocated by LAC this session included the Drug Checking Services bill and the STI Decriminalization bill, which passed in the Senate but not in the Assembly.

The Drug Checking Services bill, sponsored by Senator Nathalia Fernandez and Assembly Member Anna Kelles, aimed to authorize the Department of Health to provide drug checking technology to identify contaminants and hazardous compounds in drugs. This initiative sought to prevent fatal overdoses by providing real-time information on toxins in the drug supply.

The STI Decriminalization bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman Sigal and Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez Rojas, aimed to repeal Public Health Law 2307, which criminalizes individuals with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). LAC argues that such laws discourage individuals from getting tested and seeking treatment, contributing to health disparities.

“Repealing this outdated and harmful law that criminalizes a health condition is critical in addressing the stark disparities in HIV and STIs,” said Christine Khaikin, senior health policy attorney at LAC.

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