177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@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 40,000 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

  • Special Projects


Kevin Snover, Chairman of the Board
Gregory Cerchione, Secretary
Cindi Elibott Giglio, Treasurer
Suprotik Basu, Board Member
Andrea Bonina, Board Member
Robert J. Gunther, Jr., Board Member
Jean Hegler, 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 our Pro Bono Counsel Molly Meltzer 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 ex-Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in 2010.  Please visit this website to register for the program http://nycourts.gov/attorneys/volunteer/emeritus/about.shtml and contact Pro Bono Counsel Molly Meltzer at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Individual Volunteers are incorporated into our practices on an as-needed basis.  Please send a resume, particular skills you have that would lend itself to our work and your specific availability to mmeltzer@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.




Young New Yorkers



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

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

In fear of having your children removed? Call 347-592-2500.



We seek both newer and more experienced immigration attorneys with relevant experience to join our Immigration Practice.

See full posting on idealist.org.


Brooklyn Defender Services seeks a highly motivated and energetic litigation support assistant who works well with colleagues, can multi-task and is comfortable in a very fast-paced environment.

See idealist.org for the full job posting. 


Brooklyn Defender Services seeks highly motivated and energetic paralegals who work well in a team, are able to multi- task and are comfortable in a very fast-paced environment.

See idealist.org for the full job posting. 


Brooklyn Defender Services is actively recruiting trial attorneys to join its Criminal Defense Practice.  We are seeking applicants who will graduate from law school in the spring of 2017 as well as those with experience as a practicing attorney.  Strong preference will be given to those applicants who have a demonstrated commitment to criminal defense.

To apply:  Submit resume and statement of interest to attorneypositions@bds.org.

Please direct any specific inquiries to Richard LaFontaine, Esq. Director of Recruiting, via email at Rlafontaine@bds.org.


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 full posting on idealist.org.


BDS seeks an experienced, qualified human resource professional to guide, manage, and direct the provision of HR services and policies so that they are aligned with overall organizational goals.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services seeks to hire a Staff Attorney to join our Family Defense Practice.

See full job posting on Idealist.


BDS seeks a social worker to become part of its Family Defense Practice’s out of court advocate team of social workers and parent advocates. BDS’ Family Defense Practice (FDP) represents parents in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court. FDP advocates for clients who have diverse, complex and multi-faceted needs in a high volume and very face-paced setting.

See the full job posting on idealist.org.


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks a full-time Paralegal to work with our NYIFUP attorneys and other staff to challenge the deportation of our noncitizen clients and secure immigration benefits on their behalf.  Since November 2013, BDS has been serving as assigned counsel under NYIFUP—a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings at the Varick Street Immigration Court and in New Jersey.  Our NYIFUP team secures our immigrant clients’ release from immigration detention and defends them against deportation, arguing in immigration court for termination of the case or applying for cancellation of removal, permanent residence, asylum, or other defesnes to deportation. Our NYIFUP Practice is currently comprised of a staff of ten attorneys, one paralegal, and two legal assistants.

See full job posting on idealist.org.


BDS requires excellent Junior Investigators to assist our attorneys in providing high-quality representation to our clients. The Junior Investigator position is perfect for inquisitive and empathetic people that are dedicated to social and criminal justice issues. Applicants with prior experience may be considered for a position as Investigator.

See full job posting on idealist.org.


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 ten 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. To apply for a criminal position, please send a cover letter and a resume to Jillian Modzeleski at jmodzeleski@bds.org. If you are interested in a family defense internship contact Chas Budnick at cbudnick@bfdp.bds.org.  Selected applicants will be interviewed and decisions made by March 2017.

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. Those interested in applying for fellowships hosted at BDS should send an email of introduction explaining their proposal to Molly Meltzer at mmeltzer@bds.org.

Investigative Assistant Internships

BDS seeks undergraduates and recent college graduates with an interest in and a commitment to social and criminal justice issues for our Investigative Assistant Internship. Investigators locate, interview and take detailed statements from the witnesses, run background checks on witnesses and police officers, review video surveillance footage, draft and serve subpoenas, photograph and diagram crime scenes, and transcribe audio recordings. Investigative assistants additionally provide administrative assistance to the investigator team.

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.

The internship has a rolling admission deadline, and start and end dates can accommodate academic schedules. The internship will start with an intensive, multi-disciplinary two-week training where the interns will rotate shadowing some of our staff investigators. Investigative assistants will learn about our progressive approach to representation, our different practice areas and the laws and ethics involved in investigation. Following the initial training period, investigative assistants will continue to receive ongoing training and supervision from an experienced staff investigator who will serve as a mentor and will be responsible for assigning cases.

Required qualifications and abilities:
– Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
– Interest in criminal justice, especially the fields of criminal defense and the rights of the accused
– Strong writing ability
– 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.

To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to Brenda Duman (bduman@bds.org) and Sophia Rivero (srivero@bds.org) with the subject “Investigative Assistant Application.” Please specify which cycle you are applying to work for and if you will be working full or part time (e.g., Summer 2016, full time). Resumes and cover letters will only be accepted by email; no phone calls, please. If selected for an interview, applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.



March 22, 2017

BDS testifies in front of the New York City Council Budget Hearing on Immigration. (PDF )

March 15, 2017 

BDS testifies in front of the New York City Council Committee on Immigration on the impact of new immigration enforcement tactics on access to justice and services.  (PDF )

March 7, 2017

BDS testifies in front of the New York City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Preliminary Budget Hearing(PDF )

February 13, 2017

BDS testifies in support of #FairFares for low-income New Yorkers at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS testifies in support of legislation related to fostering family engagement in juvenile detention facilities at NYC Council (PDF )

February 9, 2017

Memo of Support of A4880 (Blake), An Act to Amend the Insurance Law, in Relation to Charitable Bail Organizations (PDF )

February 6, 2017

BDS testifies on raising the age of criminal responsibility before the NYS Senate (PDF )

Check out our infographic on our Raise the Age adolescent court model here.

January 19, 2017

BDS testifies on raising the age of criminal responsibility at NYC Council (PDF )

January 11, 2017

Joint Letter from Public Defenders and Civil Rights Organizations to NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito calling for a Vote and Passage of the Right to Know Act (PDF )

Read more on the Right to Know Act

December 22, 2016

BDS Letter to Governor Cuomo Provides Concrete Steps that New York Can Take to Protect Immigrants from Mass Deportation (PDF )

December 20, 2016

BDS submits comments to the NYC Department of Education on proposed amendments to Chancellor’s Regulations A-210 & A-750 (PDF )

December 19, 2016

BDS’ testifies on the need to end the criminalization of poverty in fare evasion enforcement and reinvest resources in fare assistance at the MTA (PDF )

December 14, 2016

BDS testifies about child welfare preventive services at NYC Council (PDF )

December 1, 2016

Andrea Sáenz and Nyasa Hickey, Supervising Attorneys in BDS’ Immigration Practice, Spearhead Letter from Immigration Legal Service Providers & Advocates to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito Supporting Urgent Reform of New York’s High-Arrest Policies to Prevent Detention and Deportation of Immigrant New Yorkers (PDF )

November 30, 2016

BDS testifies about educational services for youth detained on Rikers Island at NYC Council (PDF )

November 2, 2016

BDS testifies about the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act at NYC Council (PDF )

October 31, 2016

BDS and The Bronx Defenders submit joint testimony on vulnerable families’ interactions with city agencies before, during and after child welfare proceedings to NYC Council (PDF )

October 26, 2016

BDS testifies about Justice Reboot at NYC Council (PDF )

October 21, 2016

BDS testifies about police accountability and the Civilian Complaint Review Board at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS testifies about multi-agency support for immigrant families at NYC Council  (PDF )

September 26, 2016

BDS testifies about new jail legislation at NYC Council (PDF )

September 23, 2016

BDS testifies about wrongful convictions at NYC Council (PDF )

September 21, 2016

BDS testifies about engaging incarcerated youth and their families at NYC Council (PDF )

September 15, 2016

BDS testifies about civil forfeiture as extortion of the poor at NYC Council  (PDF )

September 14, 2016

BDS Joins 340+ Civil & Human Rights Organizations in Telling DHS: Stop Detaining Immigrants in Private Prisons (PDF )

August 29, 2016

BDS Joins Nine Other Organizations in Opposing DOC’s Plan to End the Transgender Housing Unit in City Jails  (PDF )

June 28, 2016

BDS Sends Letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo Requesting His Signature on Gravity Knife Reform Legislation (PDF )

Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.

June 23, 2016

BDS testifies on improving access to criminal courts and compliance with the ADA at NYC Council (PDF )

June 2, 2016

BDS testifies in support of legislation requiring DOC to provide free feminine hygiene products in City jails at NYC Council (PDF )

May 26, 2016

BDS testifies on RAP sheet errors and court record accuracy at NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Hearing (PDF )

BDS testifies on correctional healthcare at NYC Council (PDF )

May 3, 2016

BDS Testifies at NYC Council Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Oversight and Investigations (PDF )

April 6, 2016

BDS Memos in Support of Two Bills to Decriminalize Possession of Common Workers’ Utility Knives (A4821/S3675 PDF) (A9042/S6483 PDF )

Check out our infographic on gravity knives, “Why Are Carpenters Being arrested for Carrying Their Tools?”  here.

April 5, 2016

BDS submits testimony in support of Resolution 928A-2015 at NYC Council (PDF )

March 28, 2016

BDS Testifies at NYC Council Committee on Immigration Budget Hearing (PDF )

BDS immigration client Samuel David Flores Murillo testifies at NY City Council Immigration Committee Budget and NYIFUP Hearing (English) (PDF )

Testimonio de David Flores Murillo – NY City Council Immigration Committee Budget and NYIFUP Hearing (Spanish) (PDF )

March 23, 2016

BDS Testifies at NY City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services Preliminary Budget Hearing (PDF )

March 21, 2016

BDS testifies on proposed rule changes at NYC Human Rights Commission Hearing (PDF )

March 1, 2016

BDS Releases Statement in Support of Kalief’s Law (S5988A/A8296A) (PDF )

February 29, 2016

BDS testifies about speedy trial concerns in NYC courts at NYC Council (PDF )

February 4, 2016

BDS testifies about students who are homeless or in temporary housing at NYC Council (PDF )

January 25, 2016

BDS testifies about proposed changes to enforcement of quality of life offenses at NYC Council (PDF )

January 12, 2016

BDS testifies on proposed rules for U Visa certification requests at NYPD Hearing (PDF )

December 15, 2015

BDS testifies on the need to reform NYCHA’s permanent exclusion policy at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS testifies on abuse and mistreatment of women in City jails at NYC Council (PDF )

December 9, 2015
BDS testifies on the need for more resources for unaccompanied immigrant minors at NYC Council (PDF )

December 4, 2015
BDS testifies about Client Satisfaction Survey at NYC Council (PDF )

November 6, 2015
Supplemental BDS Testimony before NYC Board of Corrections Opposing Jail Visiting Restrictions and Rollback of Solitary Confinement Reforms (PDF )

October 19, 2015
BDS Testifies on the Impacts of Court Obstacles and Overcriminalization on Immigrants at NYC Council (PDF )

Clarence Threlkeld, BDS Immigration Client, Testifies Before City Council About His Courthouse Arrest by ICE (PDF )

October 16, 2015
BDS Response to Discriminatory Department of Correction Plan to Restrict Visiting and Packages and to Rollback Solitary Confinement Reforms

October 13, 2015
BDS Testifies on the Department of Correction’s New Policy on Uniforms for People in City Jails at NYC Board of Correction Hearing  (PDF )

October 1, 2015
BDS testifies about youth homelessness at NYC Council (PDF )

September 18, 2015
BDS testifies on the effectiveness of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS testifies about creating a task force to study veterans in the criminal justice system at NYC Council (PDF )

August 18, 2015
BDS Expresses Strong Support for Kalief’s Law (S. 5988/A. 7841) to Ensure Swifter Resolution for Defendants (PDF )

June 17, 2015
BDS Testifies at NYC Council Oversight Hearing on New York’s Bail System and the Need for Reform (PDF )

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

May 7, 2015
BDS testifies about criminal justice reform at the NYS Assembly (PDF )

May 6, 2015
BDS Testifies on Dept. of Correction Reporting Bills at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS testifies on the need for behavioral health screening in City jails at NYC Council (PDF )

BDS Calls for Provision of “Connections” guidebook to All DOC Detainees Upon Intake at NYC Council Committee on Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Hearing (PDF )

April 23, 2015
Memo of Support for S.3675/A.4821 to End the Criminalization of So-Called “Gravity Knives” (PDF )

April 14, 2015
BDS testifies on school discipline reform at NYC Council (PDF )

March 27, 2015
Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Courts & Legal Services Preliminary Budget Hearing (PDF )

March 20, 2015
Memo to Legislators: Raise the Age Reform Will Cause Additional Delays in Resolving Child Welfare Cases in Family Court (PDF )

March 17, 2015
Testimony before New York City Council on ACS & DHS Preliminary FY2016 Budget (PDF )

March 3, 2015
BDS testifies on healthcare in City jails before NYC Council (PDF )

Letter to NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Legislation Expanding Unconstitutional, Counterproductive Sex Offender Exclusions (PDF )

February 25, 2015
BDS’s Veterans Advocacy Specialist Cameron Mease Testifies at the NYC Council Hearing on Veterans Treatment Courts

February 23, 2015
Sergio Jimenez, Housing Unit Director at BDS, joins NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Advocates to Call for Improved Language Access in Housing Courts

February 10, 2015
BDS Calls for Board of Correction Scrutiny of DOC’s Implementation of New Solitary Rules

December 30, 2014
BDS Sends Open Letter to City, State, & Federal Elected Officials Urging Intervention to Stop DOC’s Expansion of Solitary Confinement through “Enhance Supervision Housing Unit” program

December 19, 2014
BDS testifies at Board of Corrections hearing on Enhanced Supervision Housing

December 9, 2014
Sergio Jimenez, Director of BDS’ Civil Justice Practice, Testifies before the NYS Assembly Hearing on Civil Forfeiture (PDF )

November 13, 2014
BDS’s Lisa Schreibersdorf Speaks to the NYS Assembly on the Fundamental Inappropriateness of Prisons and Jails as Mental Health Treatment

October 8, 2014
BDS Testifies before the NYC Council on (Mis)Treatment of Adolescents in New York City Jails

June 12, 2014
BDS’s Lisa Schreibersdorf Speaks in Support of NYC Council Bill Requiring Public Reporting on DOC’s Use of Solitary Confinement


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.





Being accused of a crime is just the beginning of “perpetual punishment”: a lifelong cycle of legalized discrimination, structural poverty, and re-incarceration. This cycle is kept in motion by 47,000 laws and regulations nationwide that restrict critical rights and opportunities.

But we know how to break the cycle: Remove the barriers and empower people.

Watch PERPETUAL PUNISHMENT, a short animated film by Molly Crabapple and presented by Brooklyn Defender Services and Vox:

Check out a follow-up Q&A with Wes Caines, the film’s narrator, on Vox Voices here.

Here in New York, there are five bills in the State Legislature that would dramatically change the punishment paradigm, and we need YOU to push your local representatives to get these bills enacted into law.

  • ‘Ban the Box’ on Job & Higher Education Applications – Pass A.3050 & A.1792/S.3740! Approximately 7.1 million New Yorkers, or 36%, have criminal records that affect them for the rest of their lives. Many people were convicted when young, or were incarcerated on bail and took a plea to get out. Many were never arrested again, years or even decades later. The conviction subjects these fellow New Yorkers to discrimination in employment and education that affects them and their families forever under current New York law and costs taxpayers money in the long run for public assistance and reduced taxes that these people would contribute if earning at their potential. These bills help to provide New Yorkers with a real chance at success by prohibiting job and higher education discrimination based on criminal convictions.
  • Reform NY’s Discovery Law to Prevent Wrongful Convictions – Pass S.3334! In New York, unlike most of the rest of the country, prosecutors and police are not required to provide police reports to the attorney representing a person facing criminal allegations at the earliest point so that defense counsel can investigate the case. This contributes to wrongful convictions and elongates the time our clients stay in jail waiting for a trial. The sad case of Kalief Browder is an example of someone whose time at Rikers Island would have been dramatically shortened or eliminated if his attorney had the information on the case. In civil cases and other cases in New York, “Discovery” is provided quickly and comprehensively. Yet we treat people who are in jail or facing serious allegations as if they do not deserve to have a fair defense.  It is no coincidence that New York is 3rd in the country in wrongful convictions. This bill will repeal an outdated law and replace it with a just and fair discovery law.
  • Sealing Criminal Records – Pass S.4027! New York is one of the only states in the nation with no sealing or expungement law, meaning even people convicted of the lowest level criminal offenses have a permanent criminal record. Many of the most debilitating collateral consequences of contact with the criminal justice system could be reduced through a robust sealing law that allows people to move beyond their punishment after a reasonable time period.
  • Seal All Low-Level Marijuana Possession Convictions – Pass A.2142/S.3809! In 1977, the NYS Legislature passed the Marihuana Reform Act, decriminalizing personal possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, but the law still allows for arrest and prosecution of those with marijuana in “public view.” In practice, low-level marijuana possession remains one of the top arrest charges in New York; more than 800,000 New Yorkers have criminal records for this offense in the last 20 years. 9 in 10 arrested for this offense are people of color, despite roughly equal rates of marijuana use across demographics. This bill would simply seal these records and remove the senseless barriers they face in education, employment, housing opportunities, and other state services. While there is not currently a bill pending, you should also ask your legislators to support full marijuana legalization!
  • Stop Criminalizing Workers for Carrying Their Tools Pass A.05667A/S.4769! Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly people of color and/or immigrants, have been prosecuted for being in possession of—either on their person, or somewhere in their car or home—an instrument they use peacefully in the workplace, simply because it meets the technical legal definition of a “gravity knife.” True gravity knives, banned in New York in the 1950’s, have been extinct for some time, but the definition included in the law has allowed for the criminalization of workers—often stagehands, carpenters or stockroom employees—simply for carrying tools that they purchased at hardware and other common retail stores and that they use on their job. This bill would change the law to clarify that simple tools, used peacefully, are not weapons.

Find your NYS Legislator by entering your address here: www.openstates.org.

The best way to make your elected representatives hear you is to call, not email! Call them today and ask for their support for these three bills.



Runs With Scissors / Flickr

Village Voice: “Yes, New Yorkers CAN Be Deported For Jumping A Turnstile”

“With or without a detainer, ICE can arrest people at home, work, and court, detain them or release them, and give them a court date for deportation proceedings in which their charges are based on offenses like fare-evasion and counterfeit handbags,” [Andrea] Sáenz [supervising immigration attorney for Brooklyn Defender Services] says. “This absolutely happens to New Yorkers, even if the NYPD is not aware of it. This is a perfect example of how ICE detainers are only one link in a chain that ties our clients to the detention and deportation system.”

Read the full story in the Village Voice here.




BDS staff were on the ground at JFK airport all weekend, some going through the night without sleep, to stop the deportation of innocent travelers arriving from seven countries targeted by the recent executive order on immigration. Chaos and heartbreak erupted at the airport as passengers were refused entry after they had landed. Hundreds of people were detained by immigration officials simply because of their country of origin despite the fact that many were Lawful Permanent Residents with green cards and all had proper travel documents.

In an awesome display of organized legal resistance, attorneys, law students and immigration advocates from a dozen organizations and local law schools identified passengers by talking to families in the airport and filing writs of habeas corpus for each passenger. BDS attorneys Talia Peleg, Molly Lauterback, Maria Romani, Andrea Saenz, Nyasa Hickey, Zoey Jones, Bridget Kessler, Ellen Pachnanda, Alexandra Tawfik, Dorothy Hughes, and paralegal Brittany Castle put in long hours at JFK airport on Saturday and Sunday, advising family members and drafting Writs. At the same time, Policy and Advocacy team members Scott Hechinger and Jared Chausow supported our immigration team inside and outside the Eastern District of New York federal courtroom in Brooklyn throughout Saturday evening, keeping the office and public abreast of ongoing developments. Even after Federal Judge Donnelly ordered a stay of the Executive Order on Saturday, many passengers were still being detained. Our staff, already experienced in filing these Writs, wrote up papers, helped volunteer attorneys prepare documents and supported families waiting for news for days.

When all was said and done, BDS was instrumental in assisting three clients, Hamidyah Al Saeedi of Iraq and Zabihollah and Mahmood Zarepisheh of Iran, to finally reunite with their families at JFK Terminal 4 after more than thirty hours in detention. Their harrowing stories are chronicled in the New York Times here.

Dozens of BDS staff attended protests at JFK Airport, at the Cadman Plaza Federal Courthouse where the stay was argued, and in Battery Park the following day, all of which were instrumental in helping the legal advocacy efforts and showing the world that Americans stand for fairness. Thousands of people stood up to show that New Yorkers vehemently oppose this Executive Order. Crowds in airports throughout the country and around the world were critical in pressuring DHS to release the dozens of people detained at JFK’s Terminal 4 and other international terminals across the U.S. BDS is proud to stand with city and state elected officials, organizations and individuals that joined the protests citywide to show support for legal documented immigrants to travel to the United States.

Events of the past week have shown us that the legal landscape we operate within can shift very quickly. BDS has set up an emergency response fund that will enable us to remain available and decisive in these uncertain times to do what we do best: defend our clients’ rights in court. Click here to contribute.

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