|Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman|
New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proposed a number of changes to the state court system Tuesday including grand jury reform, improving indigent criminal defense and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.
Speaking at his State of the Judiciary Address in the state Court of Appeals in Albany, Lippman put grand jury reform at the top of the agenda as he set out his vision for 2015.
"Of immediate concern are the perceptions of some that prosecutors' offices, which work so closely with the police as they must and should, are unable to objectively present to the grand jury cases arising out of police-civilian encounters," Lippman said. "Such perceptions, while broad brush, clearly can undermine public trust and confidence in the justice system."
Lippman said he will submit legislation requiring that grand jury proceedings be presided over by a judge in cases involving allegations of homicide or felony assault stemming from police-civilian encounters. According to Lippman, the judge would be there to "provide legal rulings, ask questions of witnesses, decide along with the grand jurors whether additional witnesses should be called to testify, preclude inadmissible evidence or improper questions, and provide final legal instructions before the grand jury deliberates."
Lippman also called on legislators to pass a joint resolution making it "unmistakably clear as a matter of a policy and principle" that low-income New Yorkers with legal difficulties are entitled to "effective legal service."
Regarding the age of criminal responsibility, Lippman wants it raised to 18, effectively ending the state's "dubious distinction in being one of the only states in the nation to prosecute 16 and 17-year-old offenders as adult criminals." He said raising the age to 18 would "end our shame in treating children as adult criminals."
Other initiatives proposed by Lippman Tuesday include the creation of the Community Justice Center in the high-crime neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn to help residents navigate the justice system and to provide them the services they need to be law-abiding citizens; the creation of the Poverty Justice Solutions program where 20 pro-bono scholars would be placed in two-year fellowships with civil legal service providers; make attorneys' public discipline history available on the court's website; reform the bail system to make public safety a factor in bail decisions; and mandate electronic-filing for all court cases in the state.
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Chief judge calls for grand jury reform during annual speech