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County Executive McCoy Announces Expansion of Indigent Legal Defense in Albany County

Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2019 9:45 AM

More Than $26 Million Builds Upon Historic Criminal Justice Reform

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy announced today the expansion of indigent legal defense through funding from the State, bringing an additional $26.2 million to Albany County over the next five years and doubling the size of the Public Defender’s Office by 2023.

Funding will be used to add dozens of attorneys and support staff, which will dramatically lighten caseloads. Other improvements include caseload standards for providers and further improving the quality of mandated representation through enhanced training and mentoring, supervision, IT and software upgrades and access to field experts for the Offices of Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender.

County Executive McCoy was a leader in the fight for this historic criminal justice reform in the 2016 legislative session, having drafted the Justice Equality Act, which would have mandated the State to cover entire cost of indigent defense. The following year, the State committed $250 million to New York counties by 2023 for counsel at first arraignment, caseload relief and general legal assistance.

“Adequate legal counsel is not a luxury; it’s enshrined in our Constitution. For too long there appeared to be two systems of justice, one for those with means and another for those without,” said County Executive McCoy. “Today is another important milestone as we right the wrongs of the past when counties struggled to pay for indigent defense. Everyone deserves their day in court and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the years on behalf of Albany County residents and the people of New York.”

“Through our working relationship with the Albany County Public Defender’s Office, we have been able to provide our clients with quality representation and services, ensuring their fate isn’t decided by how much they have in their bank accounts,” said Dr. Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice. “Those services are key to protecting their legal rights and work to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparity in sentencing - two of our major objectives at the Center.”

“If truth be known, it was County Executive McCoy’s vision and determination, more than anything else, which has been responsible for turning the New York State Criminal Justice System into one which serves all defendants equally regardless of wealth or lack thereof. I commend him for his leadership in upholding the promise of the Gideon v. Wainwright case and bringing mandated representation into the 21st century,” said Judge Larry Rosen.

This criminal justice victory can be traced back to the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright that found the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteed the right to a fair trial with legal counsel, even for those who cannot afford it. It wasn’t until the settlement of the 2014 Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York case in the Court of Appeals that found that defendants were being deprived of their right to a fair trial because public defense wasn’t adequately funded in Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington Counties. County Executive McCoy’s actions helped bring that funding beyond those five counties to the entire state.

Prior to these efforts, in 2013 County Executive McCoy successfully applied for one of the very first grants from the State to provide counsel at every court arraignment. Over the years, he has overhauled the County Public Defender’s Office to ensure pay parity with the District Attorney’s Office, hired an Assigned Counsel Administrator to improve efficiency and secured more than $2 million in competitive grants to improve the quality of indigent legal defense and provide counsel at first arraignment.

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Albany County ExecutiveDaniel P. McCoy