177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org



Due to the ongoing public health emergency related to COVID-19, Brooklyn Defender Services’ physical offices are closed to visitors until further notice.

However, our staff continues working diligently on your cases and continues handling intake, arraignments, and emergencies. We are receiving calls and emails. If you are unable to reach our staff, please leave a message and we will respond as soon as we can. 

To access a directory of staff phone numbers, please click here.

To find a guide to available resource and services, please see our COVID-19 Resource Guide.

We understand that these are difficult times. We understand that life circumstances are being dramatically altered due to COVID-19.  We are available to help you. See below to learn more about how this affects your case and how to get in contact with our staff. 



  • The Criminal Court and the Criminal Term of Supreme Court are hearing cases by video.  The only cases that are being heard in person are cases that are on the In Person DAT calendar and cases on the DAT-W calendar.  Members of the public can go to the arraignment courtroom on the first floor of 120 Schermerhorn St. and watch the video arraignment.  Arraignments of Adolescent Offenders in Youth Part 1 (YP1) at 320 Jay St. are also taking place by video.  Family and other members of the public may go to Youth Part 1 (YP1) and watch the video arraignment. 
  • If you have a court date, contact your attorney who will assist you in appearing in virtual court. 
  • For questions about your case, if you already have your attorney’s phone number, reach out to them directly. If not, or for additional information, please call 718-254-0700 or email bds@bds.org 
  • Note: If you know or have a loved one incarcerated who is feeling ill or having difficulty accessing medical care, please contact Jail Services at 646-787-3325 (English) or 646-971-2710 (Spanish). The person must be represented by BDS. 


  • Please do not travel to the Family Court as the Family Court is operating digitally and is hearing cases by phone and video. If you are a BDS client, please contact your attorney or social worker for your next court date and to discuss any issues you have with your family court case.
  • If you cannot reach your BDS attorney or social worker, or have an emergency concerning the removal of children, please call 347-592-2500. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible. ACS also has a hotline you can call to get information about where your children are located. The number is (646) 935-1411.
  • If you are not a current BDS client but you are being investigated by ACS, please call 646-974-9343 for immediate assistance. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible.
  • If you are not a current BDS client, and are not being investigated by ACS, but have questions about how to access Family Court, please follow this link for more information: http://ww2.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/family/index.shtml


  • IDV court is open for virtual appearances with Microsoft Teams. 
  • If you have a court date you need to appear using Microsoft Teams. 
  • IDV court is also able to hear emergency applications on custody and family offense cases. 
  • If you have an order that is not being followed or need further legal relief, please contact your IDV attorney (A staff directory is listed at the top of this page) 
  • Your attorney will call you or your family with your new court date. 


  • To reach our immigration practice, please call: 718-564-6290 
  • For questions regarding DETAINED individuals ONLY: 347-768-3040 
  • ICE continues enforcement operations, including arrests at homes, places of business, and near courthouses. Know Your Rights by watching our video series: www.wehaverights.us 
  • Until the close of business on July 1, 2020, all in-person reporting requirements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been suspended, and all appointments to report in person to ICE/ERO New York City, or any ICE sub-office (Central Islip and Newburgh) as well as to report in person to ICE contractors (BI) on ATD have been cancelled and will be rescheduled, or you will be contacted telephonically. Previously scheduled telephonic reporting has not been suspended. 
  • Hearings for detained individuals are still occurring at the New York Varick Street Immigration Court; most are being conducted by video teleconference. 
  • EOIR (Immigration court): Non-detained hearing at 26 Federal Plaza and 290 Broadway in New York scheduled at least through December 18, 2020 have be postponed. Some other immigration courts have resumed non-detained hearings. 
  • USCIS is reopening the local offices to the public for ceremonies on June 15, 2020 and will gradually schedule inter-views and appointments later in the month. (Additional information about details has not been provided). Applicants who are scheduled to come to the office will receive a notice and instructions in the mail. Individuals should check the USCIS website and read notices carefully regarding COVID-19 related precautions and requirements for in person appointments. 



There is no longer universal eviction moratorium in NYC. The rules for which cases can start moving through courts, who can be evicted, and how that will happen, change weekly. Speak to a housing attorney if you have questions about your specific situation. 

CDC Eviction Moratorium  

  • On September 4, 2020, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium that prevents landlords from evicting tenants who have been financially affected by COVID-19 until December 31, 2020.  
  • To benefit from the protections of the moratorium, tenants must first send their landlord a very detailed sworn statement.  
  • More information, including a sample of the required statement, can be found on the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-eviction-declaration.html 


Tenant Safe Harbor Act   

  • In June 2020, the governor signed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act into law. 
  • The Tenant Safe Harbor Act is a law that stops tenants who experienced financial hardship during the COVID-19 period from ever being evicted for non-payment of rent that became due during the period from March 7, 2020, until the state of emergency ends.  
  • Landlords may still start eviction proceedings over rent that became due after March 7, 2020, and tenants must raise financial hardship as a defense.  
  • **Landlords can still obtain money judgments against their tenants for any unpaid rent that accrued during the crisis.  
  • Money judgments can still be devastating as they can result in wage garnishment and frozen bank accounts. 


Housing Court 

  • NYC housing court began accepting new filings again on June 20th.  
  • Landlords can file new eviction cases electronically or by mail but tenants who are served with papers for an eviction case do not need to visit the courthouse to respond.    
  • At this time, the court will default tenants who fail to respond to an eviction petition by January 2, 2021, depending on the extension of another Executive Order or an additional directive from the Office of Court Administration. 
  • Once you have responded to a petition and/or you have a court date scheduled, you must appear at that court date or you may be defaulted. The court date is most likely virtual. Call the court clerk ahead of time with any questions about the appearance.  
  • As of October 12, 2020, ALL eviction cases can move forward in housing court. Cases filed before March 17, 2020 are receiving priority for scheduling, but even cases filed after will be scheduled for a court date.  
  • You should get a letter in the mail telling you when your court date is and how to appear virtually. Please call 311 if you have questions on answering your case in Housing Court. 
  • Housing Court remains open for applications addressing post-eviction relief, illegal lockouts, and apartment repairs.  
  • Tenants can file cases to compel their landlords to make repairs by going in person to the housing court in the borough in which they live or by using JustFix (an online application) 


NYCHA Administrative Proceedings 

  • NYCHA and other administrative hearings are still being postponed, however, the NYCHA Hearing Office may be reopening in January 2021. 



  • If your PA case was set to expire on or after September 30, 2020, you are required to submit a recertification form. You will receive a notification on your HRA ACCESS Mobile App or a letter in the mail when the recertification form is due for your case. 
  • If you need to apply for public assistance or SNAP you can do so online or via the HRA Access app: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/. 
  • Most HRA offices are closed! If you must visit in person call 311 for available locations. 
  • Food assistance is available at a food pantry near you.  Call 311 for locations. 
  • If you have questions, or would like to speak to the civil practice, please ask your attorney to make a referral or contact us at 332-213-4193. 


  • For the 2020-21 school year, the New York City Department of Education has opened its schools using a “blended learning” model, with a mix of in-person and remote learning.. More updates about the 2020-21 school year can be found here 
  • The DOE initially closed all school buildings to in-person learning when infection rates in the city reached 3%. However, elementary schools reopened for in-person learning on December 7, 2020, and District 75 schools reopened for in-person learning on December 10, 2020. All middle schools and high schools remain closed for in-person learning. 
  • Individual schools may close to in-person learning due to COVID-19 infections within the school community. A map of schools with school or classroom closures can be found here. 
  • Families who have chosen blended learning can choose for their children to do 100% remote learning at any time by filling out this form.  There are no official plans for families who have chosen fully remote learning for the school year to have another opportunity to choose blended learning. 
  • Many locations around the city are  serving Grab and Go meals. Students and families can pick up meals at any school building between 9:00 a.m. and noon. Members of the community can pick up meals at various locations around the city between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No registration, ID, or documentation is required to pick up these meals. People can find the closest location serving meals here, or text “NYC FOOD” or “NYC COMIDA” to 877-877 to find the closest meal hub. 



  • Our community office is currently closed but we are working remotely and available to help. 
  • If you have issues or questions about ACS, education, housing, employment benefits, re-entry services, criminal matters or general legal issues, please call 646-971-2722 or email us at communityoffice@bds.org. 



For all media and press inquiries please email Daniel Ball at dball@bds.org. 


Debido a la actual emergencia de salud pública relacionada con el Coronavirus COVID-19, las oficinas físicas de Brooklyn Defender Services están cerradas a los visitantes hasta nuevo aviso.

Sin embargo, nuestro personal continúa trabajando diligentemente en sus casos y continúa manejando admisión, acusaciones y emergencias. Estamos recibiendo llamadas y correos electrónicos. Si no puede comunicarse con nuestro personal, deje un mensaje y le responderemos lo antes posible.

Para acceder al directorio de números de teléfono del personal, haga clic aquí.

Para encontrar una guía de recursos y servicios disponibles, consulte nuestra Guía de Recursos COVID-19.

Entendemos que estos son tiempos difíciles. Entendemos que las circunstancias de la vida están siendo alteradas dramáticamente debido al COVID-19. Estamos disponibles para ayudarlo. Consulte a continuación para obtener más información sobre cómo esto afecta su caso y cómo ponerse en contacto con nuestro personal.



Para todos los casos criminales, Incluyendo los casos enviados a la corte de familia:

  • Los tribunales penales están cerrados, excepto por comparecencias, Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) y un número limitado de solicitudes urgentes, las cuales se llevan a cabo por video. Aunque las comparecencias en el 120 de Schermerhorn St. se realizan por video, están abiertas al público. Los miembros del público pueden ir a la sala de comparecencia en el primer piso del 120 de Schermerhorn St. y ver el video de la misma. Las comparecencias de delincuentes adolescentes en Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) en el 320 de Jay St. también se llevan a cabo por video. Los familiares y otros miembros del público pueden ir a Juventud Parte 1 (YP1) y ver la comparecencia en video.
  • Si usted es un cliente, o un miembro de la familia de un cliente, no vaya a la corte a menos que se lo indique un abogado. La mayoría de los casos se pospondrán automáticamente y se les dará una nueva fecha en la corte sin que tengan que comparecer clientes.
  • Su abogado lo llamará a usted o su familia con su nueva fecha de corte.
  • Si tiene preguntas sobre su caso, o si tiene el número de teléfono de su abogado, no dude en comunicarse directamente. De lo contrario, o para obtener información adicional, llame al 718-254-0700 o envíe un correo electrónico a bds@bds.org.
  • Nota: si tiene un ser querido encarcelado que se siente enfermo o tiene dificultades para obtener atención médica, comuníquese con Servicios Carcelarios al 646-787-3325 (inglés) o al 646-971-2710 (español). La persona debe estar representada por BDS.


Para corte de Familia y casos de ACS:

  • No viaje al Tribunal de Familia ya que el Tribunal de Familia está funcionando digitalmente y está atendiendo algunos casos de forma remota. Si es cliente, comuníquese con su abogado o trabajador social para su próxima cita en la corte y para discutir cualquier problema que tenga con su caso en la corte de familia.
  • Si no puede comunicarse con su abogado o trabajador social, o tiene una emergencia relacionada con la remoción de niños, llame al 347-592-2500. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos su llamada lo antes posible.
  • Si no es un cliente actual de BDS pero ACS lo está investigando, llame al 646-974-9343 para recibir asistencia inmediata. Si alguien no responde, le devolveremos su llamada lo antes posible.


Para casos judiciales de violencia doméstica integrada (IDV):

  • La corte IDV está físicamente cerrada. Los casos se reprogramarán automáticamente a una nueva fecha en la corte sin que comparezcan los clientes.
  • La corte IDV puede atender solicitudes limitadas de emergencia.
  • Si tiene una orden que no se está siguiendo o necesita más ayuda legal, comuníquese con su abogado de IDV (en la parte superior de esta página encontrará un directorio del personal).
  • Su abogado lo llamará a usted o su familia con su nueva fecha de corte.


Para casos de inmigración:

  • Número de teléfono de la práctica de inmigración de BDS: 718-564-6290
  • Para preguntas relacionadas ÚNICAMENTE con personas DETENIDAS: 347-768-3040
  • ICE continúa sus operaciones de aplicación de la ley, incluyendo arrestos en hogares, lugares de negocios y cerca de los tribunales. Conozca sus derechos viendo nuestra serie de videos: wehaverights.us
  • Hasta el cierre de negocios, el 1 de julio de 2020, todos los requisitos de presentación de informes en persona con el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) han sido suspendidos, y todas las citas para informar en persona a ICE / ERO New York City o cualquier sub-oficina (Central Islip y Newburgh), así como para informar en persona a los contratistas de ICE (BI) sobre ATD, se han cancelado y se reprogramarán, o se le contactará telefónicamente. Los informes telefónicos programados previamente no se han suspendido.
  • Las audiencias para las personas detenidas todavía se llevan a cabo en el Tribunal de Inmigración de Varick Street en Nueva York; la mayoría se realizan por video teleconferencia.
  • EOIR (Immigration court): Audiencias para las personas no detenidas en las cortes 26 Federal Plaza y 290 Broadway en Nueva York programadas hasta por lo menos el 1 de enero han sido prorrogadas. Algunas otras cortes de inmigración han reiniciado audiencias para las personas no detenidas.
  • El USCIS abrirara sus oficinas locales al publico para ceremonias el dia 15 de Junio del 2020 y gradualmente dara citas para entrevistas y citas mas adelante este mes (informacion adicional sobre los detalles no han sido provistos). Aquellos aplicantes que tienen cita para visitar la oficina recibiran una noticia y instrucciones por medio del correo. Individuos deben de visitar la pagina de web del USCIS y leer las noticias cuidadosamente sobre el COVID-19, precauciones y requisitos para las citas en persona.


Para casos de vivienda o casos civiles:

  • El 30 de junio, el Gobernador firmó la Ley de Protección de Inquilinos que protege a los inquilinos que no han pagado el alquiler entre el 7 de marzo de 2020 y la fecha por determinar cuando su región se abra por completo, siempre que puedan demostrar que han experimentado dificultades financieras durante la crisis de COVID-19.
    • Esto significa que un inquilino no puede ser desalojado por el alquiler impago que se ha acumulado desde que comenzó la crisis (siempre y cuando puedan demostrar dificultades).
    • Un inquilino, sin embargo, aún puede ser considerado responsable del alquiler impago, ya que el propietario puede recibir un juicio monetario contra el inquilino por el alquiler acumulado durante la crisis.
  • La Ley de Puerto Seguro para Inquilinos no protege a los inquilinos con órdenes de desalojo existentes, pero la moratoria de desalojo universal sigue vigente hasta nuevo aviso, por lo menos hasta el 6 de agosto.
  • Por lo tanto, no habrá desalojos de ningún tipo, para nadie, mientras la moratoria esté vigente.
  • El tribunal de vivienda de Nueva York comenzó a aceptar presentaciones nuevamente el 20 de junio
    • Los propietarios solo pueden presentar nuevos casos de desalojo por correo y los inquilinos que reciben documentos para un caso de desalojo no necesitan visitar el tribunal para responder.
    • Se requiere que todas las nuevas peticiones de desalojo incluyan un aviso a los inquilinos de que no tienen que visitar el juzgado para responder a su caso de desalojo. El aviso incluye información sobre cómo un inquilino puede responder a la petición por teléfono.
    • En este momento, el tribunal no estará incumpliendo con los inquilinos que no respondan a una petición de desalojo.
    • Los abogados de los propietarios que presenten un nuevo caso de desalojo deben afirmar ante el tribunal que el desalojo no está prohibido por la moratoria de la Ley federal “CARES” sobre desalojos, que prohíbe los desalojos de inquilinos en viviendas públicas, aquellos con vales de alquiler de Sección 8 o aquellos que viven en edificios con hipotecas o fondos respaldados por el gobierno federal hasta al menos el 25 de julio.
  • Hasta nuevo aviso, el tribunal no programará conferencias o audiencias en casos de desalojo pendientes en un tribunal de vivienda en el que el inquilino no esté representado por un abogado.
  • Sin embargo, la Oficina de Administración de la Corte ha decidido reanudar los juicios en persona en el Tribunal de la Vivienda de Brooklyn a partir del 27 de julio y, aunque la corte dará prioridad a casos de dos abogados para estos juicios, pueden reanudar los juicios que involucren a litigantes sin representación.
  • El Tribunal de la Vivienda permanece abierto para solicitudes que traten casos de alivio posterior al desalojo, cierres ilegales y reparaciones de emergencia en apartamentos.
  • Los inquilinos que elijan hacerlo pueden firmar acuerdos por escrito con sus propietarios para aplicar sus depósitos de seguridad para pagar los meses de mora y luego reponer el depósito de seguridad, hay un período de 12 meses que comienza 90 días después de que el depósito de seguridad se aplique para pagar la renta.
  • NYCHA y otras audiencias administrativas también se posponen. Si tiene un cliente que cree que tiene una próxima fecha de audiencia, infórmenos.
  • Si usted es un cliente existente con preguntas sobre su caso, comuníquese directamente con su abogado.
  • Si usted es un cliente de Brooklyn Defender Services con un problema legal civil, y aún no trabaja con nuestro equipo, o no recuerda con quién está trabajando, comuníquese con nuestro coordinador de admisión en la línea telefónica 332-213-4193.


Para preguntas sobre beneficios públicos:

  • Todas las acciones de casos negativos han sido canceladas. Las citas han sido reprogramadas. Las recertificaciones se han extendido automáticamente.
  • Si necesita solicitar asistencia pública o SNAP, puede hacerlo en línea o mediante la aplicación HRA Access: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/.
  • ¡La mayoría de las oficinas de HRA están cerradas! Si debe ir en persona, llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones disponibles.
  • Asistencia alimentaria está disponsible en una despensa de alimentos cerca de usted. Llame al 311 para conocer las ubicaciones.
  • Si tiene preguntas o desea hablar con la práctica civil, solicite a su abogado que lo remita o contáctenos al 332-213-4193.


Para preguntas sobre educación y empleo

  • Para el año escolar 2020-21, el DOE ha declarado que planea abrir sus escuelas utilizando un modelo de “aprendizaje combinado”, con una combinación de aprendizaje presencial y remoto, siempre que las tasas de infección en la comunidad se queden por debajo del 3%. El plan de reapertura del DOE está disponible aquí.
  • Los estudiantes que participan en el aprendizaje combinado recibirán sus horarios escolares en algún momento de agosto, pero el DOE ha indicado que los estudiantes que opten por participar en el aprendizaje combinado asistirán a la escuela entre uno y tres días a la semana. Las familias también tienen la opción de que sus alumnos realicen todo su aprendizaje de forma remota y pueden indicar su deseo de que sus hijos asistan a la escuela de forma remota a tiempo completo completando el formulario de preferencias de aprendizaje.
  • La única oportunidad de poderse cambiar al programa de aprendizaje combinado es del 2 al 15 de noviembre. Complete este formulario.
  • Más de 400 escuelas continúan sirviendo comidas para llevar durante el verano. Las comidas estarán disponibles para niños y familias de 7:30 a.m. a 11:30 a.m. y para adultos de 11:30 a.m. a 1:30 p.m. No se requiere registro, identificación o documentación para recoger estas comidas. Las personas pueden encontrar el lugar más cercano que sirve comidas aquí. Las familias también pueden enviar un mensaje de texto con la palabra “Comida” o “Comida” al 877-877 para encontrar el centro de comidas más cercano.
  • Si usted o un miembro de su familia no pueden trabajar debido a factores relacionados con el coronavirus, puede ser elegible para un seguro de desempleo inmediato, asistencia por desempleo pandémico, varias formas de licencia pagada, compensación del trabajador, discapacidad a corto plazo o una adaptación razonable como desde casa. También tiene derecho a trabajar en condiciones seguras y tener protección contra la discriminación.
  • Si desea obtener más información sobre los derechos educativos de su hijo en este momento de incertidumbre, o para qué beneficios laborales podría ser elegible, comuníquese con nosotros a education@bds.org, employment@bds.org, o llámenos al 646-971-2722.


Oficina de la comunidad:

  • Nuestra Oficina de la Comunidad actuelmente se encuentra cerrada, pero estamos trabajando de forma remote y estamos disponsibles para ayudar.
  • Se usted tiene problemas o preguntas sobre ACS, educacion, empleo, vivienda, beneificios de empleados, servicios de reingreso, asuntos criminales, o otras problemas legales, llámenos al 646-971-2722 o envienos un correo electrónico a communityoffice@bds.org.


Para todas las consultas de prensa y medios, envíe un correo electrónico a Daniel Ball a dball@bds.org.




The mission of Brooklyn Defender Services is to provide high quality legal representation and related services to people who cannot afford to retain an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services is a public defender organization that represents nearly 35,000 people each year who are too poor to afford an attorney. Our staff consists of specialized attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals and administrative staff who are experts in their individual fields.

Our staff are highly qualified and specially trained to provide excellent legal representation to people charged with a crime or facing child welfare proceedings. Every client receives the services needed to defend his or her case, including an investigator to track down witnesses or recover evidence, a social worker to improve the life circumstances of our client and an excellent attorney who will analyze the legal issues in the case, try to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter and will represent the client at a trial.

BDS has many services for our clients on-site, including civil legal advocacy, such as assistance with educational needs of our clients or their children, housing and benefits advocacy and immigration advice and representation.

People who are arrested face many obstacles, even if their case was resolved in their favor. Some examples are loss of employment, suspension from school, eviction from public or private housing, deportation, forfeiture of property and loss of licenses. Our goal is to help clients with these issues as they arise. We also work to change these systems by challenging their legality and advocating for changes in the law.

Each year, there are 100,000 arrests in Brooklyn. Eighty-five percent of these arrests are for misdemeanors or a non-criminal offense. Ninety percent of the people arrested cannot afford an attorney. Brooklyn Defender Services staffs the court so that every person has an attorney as soon as they see the judge.

One thousand families each year get a similar benefit—they too have an attorney waiting in the courtroom to help them on the very day that proceedings are filed for removal of their children.

Many of our clients are people with a mental illness. Many of our clients are under the age of 18. A growing number are veterans facing difficulties in returning home. A large portion are suffering with drug addiction or alcoholism. It is only through a zealous voice advocating for those unable to speak for themselves that justice is done. BDS is that voice.


  • Criminal Defense

  • Family Defense

  • Immigration

  • Civil Justice

  • Policy & Advocacy

  • Community Office


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Cindi Elibott Giglio, Treasurer
Jason Starr, Board Member
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Robert J. Gunther, Jr., Board Member
Jeffrey Rona, Board Member
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Board Member and Executive Director


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is committed to high-quality and zealous representation on behalf of Brooklyn residents facing the criminal, family and immigration justice systems.   As part of this mission, BDS strives to ensure pro bono partnerships leverage resources and provide critical support for our clients in and out of the courtroom to ensure our clients obtain the best result possible in court and, hopefully, a better outcome in their lives.

BDS regularly partners with New York City’s major law firms, corporations and other members of the private bar on numerous cases from all of our practice areas.  Our pro bono partners have worked on individual cases, filed complaints in federal courts, co-authored amicus briefs, co-counseled hearings, filed and argued appeals and conducted research on novel areas of law.  BDS offers pro bono opportunities that not only present ideal opportunities for pro bono attorneys to get real courtroom experience and work with clients in need, but that result in just and better outcomes for our clients.  BDS offers both short- and long-term projects and has flexible co-counseling arrangements. Additionally, we offer comprehensive training programs, mentorship and supervision that will provide a meaningful experience for the pro bono attorney and the client.

Law firms, corporations, law-firm attorneys, and in-house counsel who are interested in joining Brooklyn Defender Services’ pro bono practice, please contact Molly Meltzer, Director of Pro Bono at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Retired or Transitioning Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities are welcomed at Brooklyn Defender Services. Our organization is one of the host organizations of the Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) established by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Please visit the NY Courts website to register for the program and contact us at pbvolunteer@bds.org.

Individual Volunteers are incorporated into our practices on an as-needed basis. Please send a resume and cover letter indicating particular skills you have that are applicable to our work and your specific availability to pbvolunteer@bds.org.


BDS opened its doors in 1996 as the first borough-specific public defender office in New York City, with 38 employees working around donated conference room tables out of office space recently vacated by the New York Telephone Co. That first year we lived rent-free, while the building was being renovated around us, and handled 10,000 cases.

Today, BDS is one of the largest defender offices in the country, representing tens of thousands of clients in criminal, family, immigration and civil cases annually. Our staff of 300 includes 180 attorneys and 120 social workers, investigators, paralegals, re-entry specialists, jail liaisons, community organizers and policy specialists as well as dedicated advocates for youth, veterans and parents. Our specialized defense approach allows us to provide targeted services for clients with mental illness or developmental disabilities, adolescent clients, trafficking victims and veterans.



Our primary mission at BDS is to represent people facing serious accusations from the government. We recognize that our clients face many additional challenges and obstacles related to their poverty. As the largest Brooklyn-based legal services provider, BDS’s interdisciplinary staff provides supplemental legal and social services on site to our clients, including immigration attorneys, housing attorneys, an education attorney and social workers who specialize in areas such as mental health and youth advocacy.


ARISE (Action for Reform in Special Education)

Attorney General Office Criminal Justice and Mental Health Roundtable

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer’s Project

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Brooklyn Community Services

Brooklyn Justice Corps

Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association

Brownsville Community Justice Center


Caribbean American Center of New York


Center for Community Alternatives

Center  for Court Innovation

Center for Family Life

Child Welfare Organizing Project

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Christ Church Fellowship Baptist Church

Coalition for Effective Behavioral Health Reforms and Dignity in Schools Campaign

Common Justice

Drew House & Project Greenhope



Families for Freedom

Families Rising

Fortune Society

Good Shepherd Services

Haitian Centers Council

Haitian Family Resource Center

Haitian Legal Immigration Legal Assistance Program

Health Home Initiative

La Union

Lutheran Social Services

Medgar Evers College Adult Education Department

MFY Legal Service


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

New York State Bar Association

NY Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) Coalition with Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, Make the Road New York, Center for Popular Democracy, Vera Institute, Cardozo Law School & Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

NYU Law School

Osborne Association


Parent Providers Coalition (Bronx Defenders, Center for Family Representation)

Pinkerton Fellows at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Pro Bono Scholars

Ridgewood-Bushwick Young Adult Literacy Program

Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brighton-Manhattan Beach, Inc.

Shriver Center




Young New Yorkers



If you are a Brooklyn resident and cannot afford an attorney, BDS will provide free advice.

If you or a loved one are arrested in Brooklyn during the protests and need a lawyer, call this number for legal assistance 240-531-1971.

In fear of being arrested? Call 718-254-0700 and ask for the operator.

In fear of having your children removed? Call (646) 974-9343.


Visit our Community Office in East New York, located at:
566 Livonia Ave. (Between Alabama & Georgia Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11207
(646) 971-2722

We accept walk-in consultations on a variety of legal issues including ACS/child welfare, housing, and criminal matters. The office also offers regular Know Your Rights workshops open to community members. Past training topics included education rights, seeking employment with a criminal record, and what to do when ACS knocks on your door.

Current BDS clients, if you need to connect with your attorney or social worker, it is possible to arrange meetings to be held at the community office.

The office also has a variety of informational material and community resources, including know your rights fact sheets, community events, and voter registration forms.

For more information, call (646) 971-2722.



Brooklyn Defender Services is an interdisciplinary law office representing almost 30,000 indigent clients arrested each year with specialized legal services for young clients and those with immigration issues.
The Criminal Defense Practice represents clients facing both misdemeanor and felony cases in Brooklyn Supreme and Criminal Courts. BDS advocates for clients who have diverse, complex, and multi-faceted needs in a very fast-paced setting.
BDS seeks an energetic social worker to become an integral part of the criminal defense team to advocate for clients, both in and out of court.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS is one of the largest public defense providers in the United States. We represent more than 30,000 clients per year in various legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense. BDS represents clients who have diverse, complex, and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and very fast-paced setting.

Brief Description of Job:

An experienced social worker to team up with attorneys that provide comprehensive legal representation to youth age 14 to 21 with misdemeanor and felony charges.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


In April 2017, New York State enacted statewide reforms intended to improve the right to counsel for people charged with a criminal offense, who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Amendments to New York County Law § 722-e and the addition of Executive Law § 832 (4) enacted by New York State Governor Cuomo and supported by the NYS legislature encourages and enables each criminal defense provider of legally mandated representation to furnish high quality, effective representation for every client. These recent legislative reforms offer public defense providers across the state the opportunity to hire additional attorneys, investigators, social workers and support staff and develop other resources to further their efforts in improving the overall quality of mandated representation.

Persons eager to explore opportunities within the New York State public defense arena who seek a challenging work environment that promotes diversity, embraces change, and provides leadership opportunities are encouraged to participate in this Public Defenders Career Fair.

See here for more information.


Criminal Defense Practice Brooklyn Defender Services’ intensive training program is designed for recent law graduates and attorneys who are new to the practice of criminal law in New York. Attorneys spend the first few weeks of their employment at BDS attending in-house lectures on various aspects of criminal defense, shadowing experienced attorneys and practicing their skills through simulations of various aspects of criminal practice.

The Appellate Division has granted us a student practice order which gives us the right to have law students and law graduates working for BDS to appear in court even though they are not yet admitted to practice law. This allows our interns, fellows and recent law graduates to handle cases with supervision.


Law Student Summer Internships

BDS has many relationships with local educational institutions, including clinical study programs from New York University Law School (the Offender Re-Entry Clinic, the Family Defense Clinic and the Community Defender Clinic), the Youth Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School, the Criminal Defense Clinic of St. John’s School of Law and the CUNY Law School Family Law Concentration Clinic.

Brooklyn Defender Services also offers full-time summer internships to law students who have completed their second year of law school and have a commitment to public defense. The internship program lasts eight weeks. Intern duties may include legal research and writing, representation of clients in arraignments (under supervision), court appearances, client and witness interviews, trial preparation and investigation assistance.

Our law student summer internship program is extremely competitive and positions are limited. We are currently accepting applications for Summer 2021 internships.

  • For the Immigration Practice internship is no longer accepting applications for the Summer 2021 program.
  • For the Family Defense Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Ambika Panday (apanday@bds.org) and Aisha Alleyne (aalleyne@bds.org).
  • For the Civil Justice Practice internship, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to Lauren Price (lprice@bds.org).
  • The Criminal Defense Practice is no longer accepting applications for the Summer 2021 program.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available.


Postgraduate Law Fellowships

Brooklyn Defender Services hosts fellows to work in our office on special projects. Each year, we aim to identify law student fellowship applications that meet our mission of serving underprivileged clients in Brooklyn through innovative proposals. These include Equal Justice Works fellowships, Skadden fellows, and Soros fellowships among others. We additionally welcome law students from around the country whose law schools have fellowship placement options, particularly post-graduate fellowships. Applications for fellowships for the upcoming year are now closed.


Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigative assistants locate, review, and download video surveillance; photograph and document crime scenes; and conduct background research on witnesses. They additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigations unit.

While some of the investigative assistant’s work will take place in the office, much of it will be out in the field—in private homes, in local businesses, on the street and in the greater community. Ideal applicants should be comfortable working all over Brooklyn and should possess characteristics necessary to approach and interact with strangers about sensitive subjects. Candidates must be able to work in a collaborative setting and be able to produce high-quality written work.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– Fluency in another language is highly desired, but not required

This internship is unpaid. We strongly encourage interns to apply to grants, fellowships or any other funding available through school or third-party organizations. Interns will be provided with unlimited monthly metro cards for the duration of their internship.

We are not currently accepting applications for the investigative internship.



Criminal Law Reform Issues

Adolescent Justice

  • BDS Supports Raising the Age of Youthful Offender Status, A.4743B (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • Check out our one-pager on Raising the Age of YO here.


  • BDS supports the Assembly Bail Reform proposal, A.10137A (PDF ) – May 29, 2018
  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Bail Reform, A9955 & S3579A/A5033A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Supports Reform of Laws Governing Charitable Bail Organizations, A4880A/S4776A (PDF ) – February 9, 2017


  • BDS Supports Comprehensive Discovery Reform, A4360A, S7722/A10135, & S6848/A7292 (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • Check out the Repeal the #BlindfoldLaw Coalition one-pager on the urgent need for discovery reform here.

Drug Enforcement

  • BDS Strongly Opposes Increased Penalties for Opioids & K2 (PDF ) – March 26, 2018

Employment Collateral Consequences

  • BDS Responds and Proposes Amendments to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Elimination of Parole Fee and Changes to Conviction-Related Barrier to Employment and Participation in Education Councils in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Gravity Knives

  • BDS Memo of Support for Repealing Gravity Knife Law (PDF ) – May 22, 2019
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – October 11, 2017
  • BDS Sends Letter to Governor Cuomo Urging His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF ) – June 28, 2016
  • Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.
  • BDS Memos in Support of Bills to Decriminalize Possession of Common Workers’ Utility Knives, (A4821/S3675 PDF) (A9042/S6483 PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • Memo of Support to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” S3675/A.4821 (PDF ) – April 23, 2015

Immigrants Rights

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Protect Our Courts Act, A11013A/S8925 (PDF ) – June 14, 2018

Jail and Prison Conditions

  • BDS Supports Access to Feminine Hygiene Products in NYS Jails and Prisons, S6176/A588A (PDF ) – June 14, 2017

Police Asset Forfeiture

  • BDS Response to Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Changes to Asset Forfeiture in the FY19 Executive Budget (PDF ) – February 5, 2018

Prostitution and Trafficking

  • BDS Memo in Support for Expanding New York’s Vacatur Law for Survivors of Trafficking, S4997/A4540 (PDF ) – June 1, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support for Repeal of New York’s Penal Law 240.37, S8107A/A9704A (PDF ) – June 1, 2018


  • BDS Memo in Support for Legislation to Seal Certain Criminal Convictions and “Ban the Box” on Job Applications, A2699/ S5593 & A2990/S2029 (PDF ) – June 12, 2015

Solitary Confinement 

  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A3080B/S4784A (PDF ) – March 8, 2018
  • BDS Memo in Support of Restricting Segregated Confinement for Juveniles and Special Populations, A1346A & A1347 (PDF ) – April 3, 2015

Speedy Trial

  • BDS Memo in Support of Speedy Trial Reform – Kalief’s Law, S7006B & A3055A (PDF )- April 16, 2018
  • BDS Releases Statement in Support of Kalief’s Law, S5988A/A8296A (PDF ) – March 1, 2016
  • BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law, S5988/A7841 (PDF ) – August 18, 2015


Child Welfare Law Reform Issues

Adoption Subsidies

  • BDS Supports Amendments to Monthly Adoption Subsidies to Foster Parents, S6518/A8313 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Family Court ACDs

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – April 16, 2018
  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Expanding Option of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) & Suspended Judgments in Child Protective Proceedings in the Family Court, S.4767/A6837 (PDF ) – May 8, 2017

Kinship Care

  • BDS Joins in Memo in Support of Kinship Guardianship Assistance Legislation, S4833/A7554 (PDF ) – May 30, 2017

Post-Termination Contact

  • BDS Memo in Support of the Preserving Family Bonds Act, S4203/A2199 (PDF ) – April 2019
  • Preserving Family Bonds Coalition Joint Memo in Support (PDF) – April 2019


November 16. 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction (PDF)

October 28, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee (PDF)

October 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the The New York City Taxi and and Limousine Commission about proposed rule changes (PDF)

October 16, 2020

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Health on Reopening NYC Public Schools (PDF)

October 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on Proposed Rule re Biometric Data Collection (PDF)

September 30, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Health and Hospitals about NYC’s COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing Program. (PDF)

September 22, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections & Committee on Health about the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and jails. (PDF)

BDS submits letter to New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts on structural racism in the Unified Court System. (PDF)

Report to the New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts submitted by The Judicial Friends Association. (PDF)

September 21, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice & Committee on Hospitals about the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services’ management of COVID-19 in jails. (PDF)

September 18, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the exclusion of immigrants in COVID-19 relief. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council about the looming eviction crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (PDF)

September 15, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on issues facing NYC renters, including discrimination against people who use housing vouchers. (PDF)

May 19, 2020

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice & the Justice System Oversight Hearing on COVID-19 in City Jails and Juvenile Detention Centers.

February 28, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Immigration and Hospitals Oversight Hearing ICE’s Escalated Attacks on NYC Policies Protecting Immigrants. 

February 25, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Jointly with the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing DNA Collection and Storage in NYC. (PDF)

February 24, 2020

BDS Testifies before NYC Council Committee on Justice System and Committee on Housing and Buildings Oversight Meeting and Introduction of Bills Int 1104-2018 and Int 1529-2019. (PDF)

February 10, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety on Preventing Hate and Violence (PDF)

February 3, 2020

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Violence in City Jails (PDF)

January 21, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS and DOJ Proposed Rule Re: Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility

January 13, 2020

BDS submits Public Comment on DHS Proposed Rule Re: Asylum Applications, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants

December 30, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rule of the USCIS Fee Schedule

December 18, 2019 

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on the POST Act (PDF)


December 11, 2019

BDS testified before the New York City Council Committees on the Justice System and on Government Operations about day fines and collateral consequences of drug arrests and conviction (PDF)

December 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Committee on Codes and Committee on Correction Hearing on Sealing of Criminal Records and Expansion of Youthful Offender Status (PDF)

November 21, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on family separation in the child welfare system and family court system

November 15, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on USCIS Proposed Rules on Special Immigrant Juvenile Petitions, 84 FR 55250.

November 14, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly on pre-trial services and ATI’s in light of the new bail statute (PDF)

November 12, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on DNA-Sample Collection for Immigration Detainees 84 Fed. Reg 563973.

October 17, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Codes Hearing on Potential Legislative Changes to Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law (PDF)

September 23, 2019

BDS submits Public Comment on Department of Homeland Security “Notice on Designating Aliens for Expedited Removal 84 Fed. Reg. 35409.

September 3, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration (PDF)

August 9, 2019

BDS testifies before the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids Addiction and Overdose (PDF)

June 27, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019. (PDF)

May 22, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Implementation of Pre-Trial Justice Reforms Enacted by New York State (PDF)

May 1, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on the Experience of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in NYC Jails (PDF)

April 29, 2019

BDS joins the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem and NY County Defender Services in urging enactment of a slate of criminal justice reforms before session ends (PDF)

April 10, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration and the Justice System Oversight Hearing on ICE Out of New York Courts Resolution 0828-2019 regarding Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176 / S.425). (PDF)

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Hospitals Joint Oversight Hearing on the Impact of Marijuana Policies on Child Welfare. (PDF)

February 27, 2019

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Public Safety, Justice System, Consumer Affairs & Business Licensing, and Civil & Human Rights Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. (PDF)

February 26, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Department of Correction Programming. (PDF)

February 25, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on Family Separation in Criminal Cases (PDF)

February 4, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Client Experience at HRA Centers. (PDF)

January 16, 2019

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Evaluating Programs that Aim to Reduce Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Youth. (PDF)

December 19, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on the Need for Legal Representation in Immigration Court Under Trump. (PDF)

December 3, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Criminal Justice and the Justice System Oversight Hearing: “Why Does the City Make it so Hard to Post Bail?” (PDF)

November 27, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committees on Justice System and General Welfare Oversight Hearing on Removals from Parents and Caretakers In Child Welfare Cases. (PDF)

BDS testifies before New York Senators Luis Sepúlveda and Gustavo Rivera’s Public Forum on New York State’s Parole Process, Structure of the Parole Board, and Data Indicating Systemic Bias in Parole Decisions. (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Committee on Hospitals, Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction and Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Correctional Health (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Immigration, Health & General Welfare on the impact of the proposed “public charge” rule in NYC (PDF)

November 14, 2018

BDS submits testimony to the NYS Assembly in support of guaranteed access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in New York’s prisons and jails (PDF)

October 25, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Governmental Operations and Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on Language Access Implementation Plans. (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on Pay Hearing and Retention Rates for ADAs and Public Defenders (PDF)

October 16, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly on legalizing the adult use of marijuana (PDF)

Shakira Kennedy, an advocate and parent who is represented by BDS’ Family Defense Practice, testifies before the New York State Assembly on the harms of cannabis prohibition on New York’s racially and economically marginalized families (PDF)

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Education on employment and school transportation (PDF)

October 3, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committees on Governmental Operations and Criminal Justice on voting rights for people on parole (PDF)

September 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on the Cost of Justice (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York State Commission on Parental Legal Representation (See PDF for attachments)

September 17, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Immigration and the Committee on Youth Services Oversight Hearing on LGBTQ immigrant youth in NYC (PDF)

September 6, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees Immigration and Youth Services Oversight Hearing on Abolishing ICE (PDF)

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committees on Criminal Justice and Women Oversight Hearing Examining Sexual Abuse and Harassment in City Jails (PDF)

July 12, 2018

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Oversight Hearing on the impacts of the Trump Administration Family Separation Policy in NYC (PDF)

June 21, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on the Justice System Oversight Hearing on Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Criminal Court (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Gang Takedown Effects (PDF)

June 13, 2018

BDS Submits Comments to the NYS Dept. of Financial Services & NYS Dept. of State Listening Session on Abuses by the Bail Bond Industry (PDF)

May 2, 2018 

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on the harm of the commercial bail bond industry (PDF)

April 24, 2018

BDS submits written testimony to the  NYC Council Committee on Immigration Oversight Hearing on NYC Support for Immigrant Parents of Children Ages 0-5 Years (PDF)

April 23, 2018

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Criminal Justice Oversight Hearing on Safety and Security in City Jails (PDF)

April 18, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Committee on Justice System Oversight Hearing on  NYC’s Preparedness to Raise the Age and Reso. 0283-2018 (PDF)

March 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Budget Hearing on Immigration (PDF)

February 27, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council Committee on Justice System on Issues with Criminal Discovery Practices (PDF )

February 26, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York City Council in Support of Marijuana Legalization and, in the Interim, Immediately Ending Marijuana Arrests and Prosecutions (PDF  )

January 11, 2018

BDS testifies before the New York State Assembly Hearing on Legalizing & Regulating Adult Sale and Possession of Marijuana and its Prospective Effects on Public Health and the Criminal Legal System (PDF  )

December 14, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Oversight Hearing on Examining Forensic Science Practices in the NYPD Crime Lab and OCME (PDF )

December 4, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Progress in Closing Rikers (PDF )

November 28, 2017

BDS comments: Proposed state regulations on solitary confinement in local jails only codify the practice of torture (PDF )

November 21, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council on NYPD’s role in school safety and efforts to improve school climate (PDF )

November 16, 2017

BDS, along with 100 community and advocacy groups across NYS, submit letter to Governor Cuomo with recommendations for changes to New York’s pretrial detention system

November 15, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council’s Oversight Hearing on the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (PDF )

October 30, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Healthcare in NYS Prisons and Local Jails (PDF )

October 26, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Juvenile Justice Hearing on Reentry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF )

October 25, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council oversight hearing on violence in city jails (PDF )

October 23, 2017

Do You Qualify to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed? A BDS One-Pager. (PDF )

October 16, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety (PDF )

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee on Technology on Algorithm Transparency (PDF )

September 27, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Safe and Accessible Shelters for Homeless Youth (PDF )

September 20, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Aging in support of Int. No. 1616–– a Local Law in relation to establishing a temporary task force on post-conviction reentry for older adults (PDF )

September 18, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Hearing on New York’s Integrated Domestic Violence Courts (PDF )

September 13, 2017

BDS testifies before the NYC Council Committee oversight hearing on Best Practices for NYC Agencies, Courts, And Law Enforcement Authorized to Certify Immigrant Victims for U and T Visas (PDF )

September 7, 2017

BDS testifies before NYC Council Committee on Public Safety  & Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services joint Oversight Hearing on NYPD’s Responses to Persons in Mental Health Crisis (PDF )



Brooklyn Defender Services handles approximately 40 percent of the overall criminal cases for the Borough of Brooklyn, making our client profile indicative, if not entirely representational, of the wider law enforcement trends across the city, as they pertain to arrests, custody and court adjudication.



BDS’s Special Litigation Counsel works with BDS defenders and clients, outside counsel and activists, to identify systemic criminal justice deficiencies and constitutional violations that unjustly affect criminal justice outcomes for our clients. Once identified, special litigation lawyers strategically litigate those issues in State and Federal courts to improve both process and outcomes for all accused New Yorkers. From challenging unreasonable bail conditions when a case starts to overbroad barriers to re-entry when it’s over, BDS is striving to make the criminal justice system accountable to those it intends to serve through its growing impact litigation practice.


Brooklyn Defender Services has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise on the complexities that inform our client’s lives and their involvement in the justice system. BDS works with each of the courts and other stakeholders to improve procedures and policies that affect our clients in each of the courts where we are the institutional provider.

As zealous advocates for our clients and the communities we serve, it is also our duty to contribute to the larger conversations taking place within the criminal, family and immigration justice systems in order to facilitate meaningful changes. Through our presence on working groups and coalitions, the use of our external communications, position papers, blog, and other forums we seek to educate system players, legislators and community members about the critical issues facing our clients and give voice to some of New York’s most vulnerable populations.





January 13, 2021



Valerie Ibarra – San Francisco Public Defender’s Office – (628)249-7946 – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org

Lindsey Hortenstine – New Orleans Public Defender’s Office – (404) 520-3087 – LHoretnstine@opdla.org

Bob McGovern, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, rmcgovern@publiccounsel.net

Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, dball@bds.org


Public Defenders Nationwide Announce Plan for Immigration Justice; Provide Ten-Point Plan to Biden Administration

Public Defenders Urge Federal Government to Take Bold Steps to Reverse and Repair Damage of the Outgoing Administration

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Public Defenders’ Coalition for Immigrant Justice, a nationwide coalition of public defender offices, released a 10-point plan for addressing the injustices of the criminal legal system and its pipeline to deportation. The plan urges the Biden administration and new Democratic majority in Congress to act swiftly and decisively for immigration justice to undo the unjust, harmful and destructive tactics of the outgoing administration.

Public defenders are direct witnesses to the devastation that unjust state and federal laws cause our clients, their families, and their communities. The draconian policies of the last four years exposed the cruelty of the immigration enforcement machine, leading to a sharp rebuke at the polls, and public disenchantment with mass deportation. The Biden Administration has an opportunity to take a fresh approach to these important issues with immediate and bold action on behalf of our immigrant community members.

The Ten-Point Immigration Program for the Biden Administration recommends the immediate halt to deportations for a year, the reversal of inhumane Trump-era policies, and the establishment of due process protections in the immigration courts. The plan implores the Biden Administration to guarantee legal representation for people in removal proceedings, to end the jail-to-I.C.E. pipeline, and to restore pathways to lawful immigration status. The plan urges an end to immigrant detention, a sharp reduction in funding to ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol, and an increased investment in our communities.

The Public Defenders’ Coalition for Immigration Justice consists of 39 offices across the country who represent immigrants in criminal and/or immigration proceedings — including the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD) and public defense offices from Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas.

Mano Raju, Public Defender of San Francisco

“We have lived four chaotic years of inhumane and antidemocratic immigration policies that have criminalized immigrants, wreaked havoc on families, and betrayed the very principles of inclusivity and tolerance that must guide our nation. The time is now to make change. As a first order of business, the Biden Administration must immediately end the jail to ICE pipeline, guarantee legal representation for all, and end the inhumane practice of detaining immigrants, which has no demonstrable effect on public safety, and has endangered the lives of those in custody.”

Derwyn Bunton, Chief Defender for Orleans Parish and Chair of the National Association for Public Defense

“Representation remains one of the most fundamental principles in our legal system. As public defenders, we know all too well the cruelty and injustice Black and brown people and communities of color receive in the name of justice. The increased criminalization of immigration the last four years has not only been misguided, it has furthered the harm caused by a mass incarceration system disproportionately focused on Black, brown, and poor communities. The time for change is now.”

Wendy Wayne, Director of Immigration Impact Unit, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services

“As public defenders who represent immigrant clients, we have witnessed firsthand how the “War on Drugs” and decades of over-policing of communities of color, coupled with immigration laws and enforcement policies that disproportionately target immigrants with criminal histories, have resulted in unjust deportations, separation of families and untold damage to our communities. We urge the Biden administration to think beyond “good” or “bad” immigrants and adopt policies which recognize that all individuals deserve fair treatment, due process, and the opportunity for rehabilitation and meaningful participation in our society.”

Andrea Sàenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) at Brooklyn Defender Services

“Our platform calls for universal representation of immigrants facing deportation, because when the stakes are often literally life, death, or permanent family separation, no one should be deported simply because they couldn’t afford an attorney. We need to change, shrink, and defund the deportation system and reinvest in our communities. ICE enforcement, detention and other cruel immigration policies tear apart families, and we urge the Biden administration and the new Democratic majority congress to listen to our neighbors’ voices.”

Edwin Tineo, former client of Brooklyn Defender Services’ NYIFUP, Fellow with the New Sanctuary Coalition

“This immigration system has done so much harm to so many people living in this country, including myself. With the new president, we need to make sure that no one goes through what I went through. Not one more person should be forced to suffer in immigration detention for months and years just because of where they were born. ICE puts fear into our community by terrorizing our hard-working immigrant neighbors and locking people away and deporting them away from their families. This agency should no longer exist. Instead, the Biden administration should keep our families and communities together by allowing people to live here legally with equal rights.”


Link to the Public Defenders’ Coalition Ten-Point Immigration Program which includes all signatories.

Link to the recording of the press conference held on January 13, 2021.



January 8, 2020



Alejandra Lopez, The Legal Aid Society, AILopez@legal-aid.org, 917-294-9348

Daniel Ball Brooklyn Defender Services, dball@bds.org 

Ryan Karerat, The Bronx Defenders, rkarerat@bronxdefenders.org




NYIFUP Statement on Egregious Treatment of Immigrants on Hunger Strike in ICE Detention 

Attorneys Demand Transparency from Jail Officials and Release of All Immigrants in ICE Custody

(New York, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders – New York City’s defender organizations providing free legal representation to detained immigrants through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) today released the below statement in response to mounting reports that ICE and jail officials have retaliated against incarcerated people participating in a hunger strike at Hudson County Jail. 

At least three ICE detainees have been placed in solitary confinement and denied water and other basic necessities for over 24 hours, forced to sleep in cold temperatures without blankets, and had all their personal belongings confiscated without explanation. NYIFUP attorneys report that they have been unable to reach their clients and that their appointments were cancelled with no prior notice. Additionally, it is reported that some 50 incarcerated immigrants are being transferred to another facility, possibly in an effort to curtail the strike. 

According to one detainee, “The treatment we are receiving here is inhumane. We are being treated worse than rats. I am suffering. No one should have to suffer this treatment.” 

NYIFUP released the following statement:

“This egregious treatment of our clients in ICE detention is absolutely unacceptable and marks a violent and inhumane form of retaliation by jail officials. Our clients have the right to protest the poor and life-threatening conditions in which they are being held, which range from inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, broken phone and video equipment that prevents communication with families and attorneys, to widespread solitary confinement. The ongoing hunger strikes are yet another urgent call to action by detained people taking enormous personal risks to demand justice and safety. The daily accounts we hear from the people we serve — current and former participants in the strike — are horrific, appalling, and an indictment of ICE and jail staff’s deliberate disregard for human life, and we are united with them in their fight.  

With COVID surging again in New York, New Jersey, and across the country, releasing all people from immigration detention has never been more urgent. We call on ICE to respect detained individuals’ right to protest, to not retaliate against them, and to instead protect public health and human rights by releasing people immediately.”

BACKGROUND: The New York Family Immigrant Unity Project (NYIFUP) is the nation’s first public defender system for immigrants facing deportation—defined as those in removal proceedings before an immigration judge. Funded by the New York City Council since July 2014, the program provides a free attorney to almost all detained indigent immigrants facing deportation at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City.

There is currently a COVID-19 outbreak in the Hudson County jail, which officials believe can be traced to a staff person. 

Public health experts have called for decarceration as a life-saving tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Immigration detention facilities have relied on widespread solitary confinement amid this pandemic, which only exacerbates the harm and spread of the virus.



January 6, 2021


Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org






(BROOKLYN, NY) – Jackie Gosdigian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services released the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s announcement of a plan to legalize marijuana in 2021 executive budget:

“With today’s announcement, Governor Cuomo has recognized that now is the time for New York to legalize marijuana. However, it is imperative that marijuana is not simply legalized but legalized the right way. That means passing a progessive legalization bill that is rooted in racial and economic justice, and focuses not only on increasing revenue and jobs, but also on giving back to the communities that have long suffered the impacts of marijuana prohibition and racially biased enforcement. The harms of prohibition persist even with decriminalization and underscore the need for legalization that promotes marijuana justice. Law enforcement continues to use marijuana as a pretext to stop and harass people of color and the family regulation system continues to use marijuana to separate Black and Latinx children from their families and hold them in foster care longer. To undo past harms and create a more equitable New York, Governor Cuomo and state legislators must center communities who have borne the brunt of the criminalization of marijuana in its legalization effort.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney. 

 Brooklyn Defender Services is a member of Start SMART NY– Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade coalition – the campaign dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition in New York. The campaign believes that it is time to stop the ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition and to create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in racial and economic justice.




Brooklyn Defender Services is a non-profit that provides legal representation at no charge to our clients. We will never ask for money for our services or anything related to our clients’ cases. A phone scam has come to our attention where the caller represents themselves as calling from Brooklyn Defender Services to say that a loved one has been arrested and asks for bail money. The caller may also say they are from “Kings County Public Defender Office” – there is no such organization. These callers are preying on vulnerable people and we strongly condemn their actions.

If you or someone you know receives a suspicious call purporting to be from Brooklyn Defender Services, request the caller’s name, hang up, and call our office at (718) 254-0700 and request to speak with that person. If the caller is a BDS employee, we will connect you to them. The purpose of this message is to prevent future scams and our staff will not be offended if you ask to verify their identity in this manner.



December 10, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org


Brooklyn Defender Services Calls For Independent Investigation And Abolition Of NYPD Vice Squad In Letter To NYC Officials

In Light of ProPublica Investigation into NYPD Vice Culture and Abuses, Defenders Demand Accountability and the Decriminalization of Sex Work

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services , sent a letter on December 10th to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the five NYC District Attorneys and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, in response to a recently published article detailing horrific abuses by the NYPD Vice Squad published by ProPublica titled “NYPD Cops Cash In on Sex Trade Arrests With Little Evidence, While Black and Brown New Yorkers Pay the Price.”

The letter, which is available in full here, calls for the abolition of the Vice Squad, an independent investigation of the unit, full decriminalization of sex work, an independent investigation into the existence and dissemination of recordings made by NYPD members during Vice Squad operations, vacatur of convictions of cases brought by UC-157 and other Vice Squad officers, and shrinking of the NYPD budget, among other recommendations.
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services also released the following statement:

“The targeted enforcement of outdated, paternalistic and racist laws by the NYPD Vice Squad has been mired in corruption, sexual misconduct, and gross abuses of New Yorkers for decades. Ending the harms perpetrated by NYPD Vice is a clear issue of both gender and racial justice. People targeted for arrest for sex work are overwhelmingly transgender and cisgender women, and people arrested both for sex work and for purchase-side charges are almost exclusively Black, Brown, and Asian New Yorkers. The stories shared in this article are not outliers; rather, they are representative of what we know to be true of the culture and operations of NYPD Vice. The actions of the NYPD reflect a culture of dehumanization and abuse in pursuit of criminal charges as well as the Department-sanctioned sexual gratification of individual officers through rape, harassment, and exploitation. The City is spending enormous resources and inflicting significant harm in the name of ‘vice’ enforcement, and this must end.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney.

Brooklyn Defender Services’ Women’s Defense Project was created in response to the highly traumatic nature of the experience of our clients who have a history of violence, exploitation and abuse that directly or indirectly led to their involvement in the criminal legal system. Our responsive legal representation on behalf of cisgender and transgender women who are charged with crimes in Brooklyn focuses on defending them in the criminal cases as well as the related consequences that often arise from these charges. We are also committed to bringing to light the harm of police enforcement policies and the abusive practices of NYPD officers who are tasked with enforcing the laws against sex work. We regularly represent people who are required to appear in the Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where we represent sex workers and victims of trafficking who have come in contact with the criminal legal system. We have represented thousands of people who have been charged with both sale and purchase-side crimes related to sex work.



December 8, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org



(BROOKLYN, NY) – Andrea Sáenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) for Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement about conditions at Bergen County Jail, in response to reports that a group of immigrants in the facility have reached the 25th day of their hunger strike, and renews call to free all detained immigrants:

“As the second wave of the pandemic hits New York City and New Jersey, a group of immigrants detained at Bergen County Jail have entered the 25th day of their hunger strike to protest conditions and demand release. The people we represent have long reported negligent and dangerous conditions in ICE detention, only worsened by the pandemic, including solitary confinement, lack of basic sanitation, and inadequate medical care. In recent days, we have heard from our clients detained at Bergen County Jail that there is no soap in bathrooms for handwashing; no disinfectants or hand sanitizers are available; bathrooms are not being cleaned and some are out of order; food is scarce and inadequate; temperatures are cold; phones are not disinfected; guards are antagonistic; single masks have to be worn for several days; and social distancing remains impossible in crowded rooms of 50 to 60 people with some not wearing masks.  

As COVID-19 ravages prisons and jails across the country and deaths in ICE detention reach record highs, these conditions are unacceptable and downright life-threatening. ICE enforcement and detention is racist, inhumane, and a danger to us all, especially in a global pandemic. ICE must free all immigrants from Bergen County jail and all detention centers across the country and allow people to remain safely with their families and communities.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney. Since the pandemic struck, BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has taken successful legal action causing ICE to release 75% of all the detained immigrants we serve.



November 17, 2020

NYIFUP Statement About Hudson County’s Contract with ICE 

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) provides free, high-quality representation to detained people facing deportation in New York City. Our clients are New Yorkers who are detained in county jails that include the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey. NYIFUP is run by The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention is unjust and inhumane. It separates families, presents a public health crisis, diminishes the ability to fight against deportation, and reinforces a system that uses fear and abject cruelty as its principal tools.  We are committed to realizing a world without ICE and without immigration detention. To make that vision a reality, the NYIFUP providers will continue to work alongside impacted people, their families, organizers, and other advocates.

The Hudson County Freeholders are currently considering whether to renew the county’s contract with ICE to provide facility space and staff for immigration detention in the county jail. Two years ago, we opposed the termination of the contract between ICE and the Hudson County Jail out of concern that it would result in the mass transfer of people from the facility to other facilities across the country, far away from their families and to jurisdictions where they may not have access to counsel. Today, while transfers remain a concern, we also recognize that ending the contract with ICE may advance our goals of decarceration and freedom for the people we serve. We appreciate that we cannot predict how the termination of this contract would impact our current and future clients.  

In light of this uncertainty, the NYIFUP providers have decided to take no position on whether Hudson County should end its contract with ICE. No matter what Hudson County decides to do, as public defenders we will remain steadfast and committed to our core mission of fighting for freedom in every case and ensuring that every detained immigrant forced to navigate the deportation machine has a zealous public defender by their side. 

While Hudson County has the power to end its contract with ICE, it does not have the power to release those currently incarcerated by ICE. If the contract with ICE is terminated, the Freeholders can join us in advocating to ICE for our clients’ release. If they are not released, the Freeholders can join us in advocating that they be transferred close to their families, that they be provided legal representation, and that they have time to prepare for their transfer. And if the county renews the ICE contract, we will continue to do the work we have always done: pursue every possible legal avenue to free people from ICE detention and ensure they remain with their families and communities.



October 20, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org



(BROOKLYN, NY) – Andrea Sáenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) for Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) increased home raids, detention, and new deportation cases against immigrants in the New York area amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:
“After months of limited activity, ICE has increased operations, raiding homes and arresting and detaining immigrants, as the danger of a second wave of the pandemic looms over New York City. These raids come as the death toll of immigrants in ICE detention is higher than it has been in the last fifteen years. ICE enforcement and detention is racist, inhumane, and a danger to us all. ICE must cease their raids, free all immigrants from their jails, and allow people to remain safely with their families. This latest reckless operation adds to the long list of reasons why ICE must be abolished.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a public defender organization serving tens of thousands of Brooklyn residents each year since 1996. Our mission is to provide high-quality and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration legal representation, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for people who cannot afford an attorney. Since the pandemic struck, BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has taken successful legal action causing ICE to release 75% of all the detained immigrants we serve.



October 13, 2020

Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)

Dan Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services (Dball@bds.org)

Ryan Karerat, The Bronx Defenders (RKarerat@bronxdefenders.org)

Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services (LToddmedina@nycds.org)

Sam McCann, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (SMccann@ndsny.org)

Hettie Powell, Queens Defenders, (hpowell@queensdefenders.org)


Marking 100+ Days Since Albany Rolled Back Bail Reform, Defenders Decry 16 Percent Rise in Jail Population as Alarming Second Wave of COVID-19 Threatens NYC

With Jails Functioning as Deadly Incubators for COVID-19, Officials Must Commit to Decarceration to Save Lives

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Queens Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem issued the following joint statement decrying the increase in New York City’s jail population by 455 people – roughly 16 percent – held pretrial, amid a second wave of COVID-19, following the implementation of rollbacks to New York State’s bail reform law, which went into effect on July 2, 2020:

“It is unconscionable that Albany capitulated to racist fear-mongering and subjected more people to pretrial detention during the COVID-19 pandemic – a betrayal that is both cruel and dangerous. One hundred days after the implementation of these bail rollbacks, our fears have been realized as more and more people are in jail at the very moment that the City braces for a resurgence of COVID-19. Forcing people to share dorms, meals, sinks, toilets, and poorly-ventilated air, and having people constantly coming in and out of custody and moving from facility to facility goes against everything public health experts have told us. This makes us all less safe, and particularly threatens the Black, Latinx, and working class communities that were already disproportionately devastated by the pandemic. New York needs a commitment from all stakeholders, from prosecutors to lawmakers, to resume decarceration and help New Yorkers protect themselves and each other from this deadly virus.”

Background: On July 2, 2020, the day bail reform rollbacks took effect, there were 2,909 people languishing pretrial in New York City jails. As of October 10, 2020, there were 3,364 people held pretrial in local jails. This amounts to an increase of 455 people. This increase reflects even larger number of people who are admitted to New York City jails and exposed to others there, as people cycle in and out and every day.




September 29, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services


Brooklyn Defender Services Releases Public Comment Opposing the Adoption of NYPD’s Discipline Matrix

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Today, Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement and public comment in response to the release of NYPD’s proposed Discipline Matrix policy:

“As people across this city and country come together to demand an end to police violence against Black people and other people of color, New York City responded with a proposed NYPD Discipline Matrix, which utterly fails to meet these demands. This proposal protects police officers, not the people of New York, and will have no meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. The Discipline Matrix merely condenses and reorganizes the rules in the NYPD’s Patrol Guide, which has long failed to prevent or discourage police brutality and misconduct. We know, and this proposal shows, that the NYPD will never police itself.

New York needs truly binding measures of police accountability, not toothless matrices with massive loopholes that allow the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct. New York must also take legislative measures, such as eliminating mandatory minimums that protect rampant police misconduct by coercing people to take pleas rather than risk lengthy sentences. Finally, and most importantly, New York City must start divesting from law enforcement and invest in the needs of people who live here instead.”

Brooklyn Defender Services’ public comment to NYPD Commissioner Shea states: 

Brooklyn Defender Services submits these comments to the NYPD’s Proposed Discipline Matrix, published August 31, 2020. For the reasons set forth below, we strongly oppose adoption of the Matrix.

Every year, Brooklyn Defender Services (“BDS”) represents nearly 30,000 people in the criminal, family, and civil court systems of Kings County. Many of the people we serve, primarily Black and brown New Yorkers, have experienced abuse and misconduct by the NYPD. We at BDS have joined our communities in the call for meaningful, top-down change to the NYPD for years. We are now living in a seminal moment in history as police departments face demands from across the country to analyze long-standing abusive practices and the continued employment of perpetrators within their ranks. 

Amid calls for real reform, the NYPD has released a draft non-binding “Discipline Matrix” which defines prohibited police conduct and specifies potential penalties for personnel who engage in misconduct. However, this purportedly new document merely reiterates preexisting guidance that has consistently failed to rein in abusive police behavior. Crucially, under the proposal, the NYPD remains responsible for enforcing its own rules—which it has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to do—and the Police Commissioner retains veto power over any and all disciplinary actions per City law.  We do not believe that essentially condensing the existing Patrol Guide into a 53-page Matrix will have any meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. Despite a demonstrated need for change, the Department instead makes it clear, once again, that it plans to continue to condone and defend a pervasive culture of abuse and violence while codifying ways for police to evade accountability.

The Patrol Guide is a publicly available document that purportedly governs police conduct by defining prohibited conduct and disciplinary actions that may be taken against offending personnel. However, anyone who has experienced police behavior in New York City understands that these “rules” do not prevent or meaningfully discourage policy brutality and misconduct. Alarmingly, efforts to enhance transparency and accountability, including increased video surveillance of police conduct, have done little to counteract violence and abuse that far too often goes unchecked and unpunished. In the past several months alone, countless instances of police violence captured on video, when the officers know they are being recorded, clearly demonstrate that the existing rules and protections are inadequate. Officers with highly publicized histories of misconduct not only remain on the job making arrests but are promoted through the ranks. This is unlikely to change if the arbiter of police discipline remains the NYPD itself. 

The Matrix reflects Patrol Guide language, sometimes verbatim. For example, the Patrol Guide governs use of force (221-01 and 221-02), requires NYPD personnel to intervene during instances of excessive force by other officers (221-02), and has strict reporting requirements (221-03). These rules are on the books but do little to curb obvious, persistent, and often recorded violations of these rules by NYPD personnel, and reforms have historically been disregarded by the Department. The chokehold ban went into effect in 1993 after the police killed 21-year-old Federico Pereira in Queens, but police have repeatedly been seen on video using prohibited chokeholds on New Yorkers. Even though the body-worn camera (“BWC”) program, launched after the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, requires officers to have their cameras turned on during almost all encounters with civilians, BWCs are routinely obstructed or turned off.  The Right to Know Act was enacted in 2018, yet police often conceal their badge numbers and refuse to give required information to the public. 

While the stated goal of the Matrix is to provide transparency and efficiency in the accountability process, it ultimately is little more than a theoretical possibility—it states what penalties could be imposed, is non-binding, and does not present a solution to ongoing disregard for existing Department policies. This stated commitment to transparency is clearly apocryphal; since the repeal of 50-A, which shielded police personnel files from public view, the NYPD has engaged in an ongoing court battle to fight the release of any and all NYPD disciplinary records. 

The Matrix, like the Patrol Guide and previous attempts at police reform, also includes major loopholes allowing the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct using myriad mitigating factors. The mitigation language incorporates racist presumptions that underpin brutal policing, raising their profile from mostly unspoken understandings to Department-sanctioned excuses. For example, excessive force may be excused if an officer claims that a person was “apparently under the influence of a stimulant or narcotic which would affect pain tolerance,” with no requirement for the officer to be factually correct. The subject’s “size, age and condition” compared to the officer may also be considered. In these two factors alone, the Matrix manages to codify historically race-based presumptions about drug use, pain tolerance, age, and strength into official NYPD code. This loaded language has been used throughout American history to justify racist, deadly, and abusive policing, and the NYPD has made it part of its 2020 platform. 

Additional mitigating factors are also familiar to defenders and anyone who has been charged with criminal conduct in attempts by police to excuse their own abuse or misconduct. Police allegations that a person made furtive movements, that a crowd gathered, that a situation was tense, or that they resisted arrest by moving any part of their body, among other claims, would continue to help officers evade accountability.

Any attempt to rein in the police without significant cuts to budget and personnel—beginning with those who have already committed “prohibited” conduct—as well as independent oversight with disciplinary powers, and binding conduct requirements will not change a Department with a long history of abuse, misconduct and unaccountability, particularly against Black and brown communities. The Matrix also notes that police may face both civil and criminal actions for egregious misconduct, but every dollar of civil lawsuit settlements are paid by NYC residents and criminal actions filed by prosecutors against police can only be described as exceedingly rare. We have every reason to believe, based on past experience and the ongoing public words and actions of the NYPD and its unions, that this program will merely pacify some critics while maintaining the status quo.

Lastly, the Department’s effort to ram through this Matrix in 30 days—without adequate time for public analysis and comment—just reiterates that this flawed process is little more than a facade designed to mask recycled policies that have already proven to be ineffective. This is an unacceptable tactic, particularly at a time when gathering stakeholder input is more difficult than ever and the public is demanding an open, effective, comprehensive process that results in meaningful change. The Department’s fundamentally flawed process will inevitably yield ineffective results and only exacerbate the significant harms done to New Yorkers.  

Simply put, this Discipline Matrix has failed to incorporate the transformative changes community members have been demanding. The NYPD will never police itself.”