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Letter: Cuomo should support criminal justice reform

Cuomo should support criminal justice reform

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has a unique and historic opportunity to lead the country in progressive and important criminal justice reform.

Specifically, the governor can right a wrong and systemically overhaul the justice system, ensuring equal access to legal representation for one and all.

Because the state was sued for having an unconstitutional legal representation program for the poor, we now have an improved public legal defense system for the five counties that were the subject of the litigation. But uniformity is critical.

Having a uniform system of justice is not just a constitutional obligation; it’s also morally just. Ensuring legal counsel is present during criminal proceedings protects not just the rights of the accused, but also ensures that taxpayer-funded programs are most efficient and the outcome in the best interest of society.

The State Legislature has expressed a strong desire during the remaining months of the legislative session to ensure a uniform system of justice. State lawmakers need to agree upon and act on legislation (S.6341A and A6202C) that will extend the enhanced public defense system to counties statewide. County government officials, who finance and administer the legal defense for the poor, also urge Cuomo to zealously champion this cause as he has for the rights of so many causes.

Stephen J. Acquario

Executive Director, New York State Association of Counties