Manhattan Supreme Court at night NYLJ/Rick Kopstein

Centralized arraignment parts for off-hours arraignments are slated to begin in four upstate counties this month, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced Monday.

In an effort to help deliver counsel to indigent defendants, the CAPs will operate evenings and weekends beginning Monday in Broome County and next Monday, Oct. 8, in Oneida County. CAPs in Onondaga and Washington counties are slated to begin later this month, Marks said in a press release.

The pilot program was established as part of a bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November 2016. The idea of having off-hours arraignments was based on a recommendations of Marks’ advisory committee on criminal law and procedure and was partly born out of New York’s experience with the settlement in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York (NYLJ, March 18, 2015). Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit sued the state over allegations that services provided to indigent criminal defendants were constitutionally deficient. As part of the settlement, the state agreed to improve indigent criminal defense in Suffolk, Washington, Ontario, Onondaga and Schuyler counties, which were named as defendants in the case.

Additional CAPs will be established in other counties in the “coming months,” according to the court. The new law, the court says, ensures that counsel is available to poor defendants, promotes “efficiency” and reduces the burden on “various justice system stakeholders.”

Marks said in a statement, “the centralized off-hours arraignment pilot parts will play an integral role in the judiciary’s quest to fulfill the promise of equal justice for all New Yorkers, serving as a model for additional counties and working in tandem with other reform efforts to improve the quality and delivery of indigent defense services statewide.” Under the pilot program, judges in local criminal courts in the four upstate counties will be assigned a single, central court part on a rotational basis, and will conduct arraignments that are a result of off-hours arrests for the rest of the county. Judges, defense attorneys and security staff in the four counties will be available at arraignment proceedings during the designated off-hours.

“Having attorneys at a client’s first appearance is critical to providing effective and zealous representation when people are in need the most. Having a lawyer to advise a person on their rights, to challenge bail requests and to ensure a person’s constitutional guarantees helps fulfill the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright and makes a huge difference to the person who is being accused,” said Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice.