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News & Press: Latest News

NYSACDL Issues Memo Supporting the Repeal of Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law

Tuesday, June 2, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jennifer Van Ort
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On June 2nd, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) issued a memo supporting the repeal of Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law (NYS Legislature Bills S3695/A2513). Please see the memo here (PDF) and below.

Memo In Support
Repealing of Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law - S3695 and A2513

June 2, 2020

In the wake of the abhorrent death of George Floyd, NYSACDL is compelled to once again reiterate its support for S3695 and A2513 and urge the NYS Legislature to pass these bills repealing Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law.

As aptly stated by a 23-year veteran of the Albany Police Department and its former Police Chief,
“[o]verturning [§ 50-a] would be a practical solution to prioritize accountability and public trust and
strengthen relationships with the communities we serve.”1

Citing George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests across the country this past weekend,
including protests here in New York involving the recordings of NYPD vehicles driving into crowds,
Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced his support for a reform of Civil Rights Law § 50-a. In fact, he said, “Pass the bill. I will sign it today. I can’t be clearer or more direct than that.”

The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NYSACDL”) is taking up that call.

The manner in which George Floyd was killed hauntingly echoes the chokehold killing of Eric Garner by NYPD in 2014. The common threads in both these incidents are (1) that they are examples of the institutional racism and insidious biases that permeate law enforcement agencies and the entire legal system, and (2) that contemporaneous evidence of these deaths was obtained by witness cellphone videos which, in New York, becomes part of the officer’s force monitoring file and, is an example of “records” that are all-too-often shielded from public disclosure because of Civil Rights Law § 50-a’s protection of police officer personnel records.

50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law was enacted in 1976 to permit law enforcement to
withhold disclosure of personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion. With the advent of contemporaneous recording devices which has exposed police tactics and allowed the public to have a firsthand view of police conduct, it has become apparent that disclosure of these files is crucial to maintain accountability and ensure protection for all of our citizens and not just the privileged. When conduct goes unchecked, police officers are not held accountable and police departments are relieved of the obligation to properly screen, hire, train, and discipline their officers. This results in the repeated and abhorrent killings by those employed to defend our liberties.


If ever there was a time to re-evaluate a legislative intent and pull back a relic from a former time, it is now.

Pending in the Codes Committees of both houses of the New York State Legislature are S3695 and A2513—identical bills introduced by Senator Jamaal T. Bailey and Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell that would repeal Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law. NYSACDL would urge you to support these bills in the 2020 legislative session.2

 

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1 https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Commentary-Open-misconduct-records-to-improve-14948648.php


2 It is worth noting that S4213, S4214, S4215 and A2671, which attempt to reform Civil Rights Law § 50-a in varying degrees, are pending in the Codes and Governmental Operations Committees. Their stated justifications are all the same—increase transparency and accountability.