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 is working and will continue to be in court to handle intake, arraignments, and emergenciesWe 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. 

For all criminal cases, including criminal cases sent to Family Court: 

  • Criminal court is closed except for arraignments and emergencies. 
  • If you are a client, do not go to court unless instructed to by your attorney. Family members of incarcerated clients should not come to court unless instructed by attorneys. Most cases will be automatically adjourned to a new court date without clients appearing. 
  • Your attorney will call you or your family with your new court date.  
  • For questions about your case, if you already have your attorney’s phone number, please feel free to reach out to them directly. If not, or for additional information, please call 718-254-0700. 
  • 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. 

For Family Court ACS cases: 

  • Family court is closed for all ACS, custody, and visitation cases except for emergencies
  • If you are a client, do not go to Family Court without first contacting your attorney or social worker. Your court case will likely be adjourned for 90 days. Please call your attorney for your next court date and to discuss any issues you have with your family court case. 
  •  If you cannot reach your attorney or social worker or you have an emergency concerning removal of children, please call 347-592-2500. If someone doesn’t answer, we will call you back as quickly as possible.   
  • 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. 

For immigration cases: 

  • BDS Immigration Phone Number: 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 April 14, 2020, all reporting requirements of non-detained immigrants have been suspended, and all appointments to report in person to 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. Telephonic reporting has not been suspended.    
  • Some deportation (removal) case in Immigration Court in New York City are still happening despite concerns about COVID-19, and some are being cancelled and rescheduled by the Court.  
  • Hearings for detained individuals are still occurring at the New York Varick Street Immigration Court.  
  • All hearings for people that are not detained are cancelled, through April 10, 2020. You or your attorney will be mailed a hearing notice of a new court date. The Immigration Court is posting updates on its Facebook page (@doj.eoir), Twitter (@DOJ_EOIR), and its website. You can check the status of your individual case using your Alien Number by calling 1-800-898-7180 or visiting this website: https://portal.eoir.justice.gov/InfoSystem/Form?Language=EN 
  • If you have an interview with USCIS, it will not occur. As of March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).  
  • USCIS offices will reopen on May 4, 2020 unless the public closures are extended further. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations. To schedule an emergency appointment, contact the USCIS Contact Center. Changes are happening very rapidly; the best source of information is USCIS itself: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-response-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19 

For housing or civil cases: 

  • Housing court is closed except for emergencies.  
  • There will be limited access to court for emergency matters such as illegal lockouts or extremely dire housing conditions. If you have questions or believe this applies to you please contact us. 
  • All evictions in New York City have been suspended indefinitely. 
  • If you are a client with an upcoming court date, do not go to court unless instructed by your attorney. All court dates are being rescheduled 
  • Your attorney will call you with your new court dateYou will also receive a new date in the mail or can look it up here: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcivilLocal/LCMain. 
  • If you are an existing client with questions about your caseplease reach out to your attorney directly.  
  • If you are a Brooklyn Defender Services client with a civil legal issue not yet working with our team, or don’t remember who you are working with, please reach out to our intake coordinator at 332-213-4193. 

For Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Court cases:  

  • IDV court is closed. No criminal or family matters are proceeding.  
  • If you are a client, do not go to court. All cases are being automatically adjourned to a new court date.  
  • Your attorney will call you with the new court date 
  • For questions about your case, if you already have your attorney’s phone number, please feel free to reach out to them directly. If not, or for additional information, please call 718-254-0700. 

For questions about public benefits: 

  • HRA offices remain open for new cash assistance or rental arrears applications. They are not taking any negative case actions for missed appointments or other program requirements. SNAP applications, recertification for current recipients, and some other actions can be completed here: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/ 
  • 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 questions about education and employment 

  • All schools are closed until at least April 20, 2020. Meals are available this week at all public schools from 7:30am-1:30pm. Families can go to the school closest to them to pick up food, they do not need to go to their child’s school. The Department of Education will contact families by the end of the week with instructions regarding remote learning.  
  • Further information and updates are available on the DOE’s website: https://www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/health-and-wellness/coronavirus-update.  The Department of Education has indicated they are committed to providing supports and services for all students, particularly students with disabilities.  
  • If you or a family member are unable to work because of factors related to coronavirus, you may be eligible for immediate unemployment insurancepaid sick leaveshort term disability, or a reasonable accommodation to work from home.  
  • If you want more information about your child’s educational rights in this uncertain time, or what employment benefits you might be eligible for if your work has been affected by coronavirus, contact us at education@bds.org, employment@bds.org, or call us at 929–314-0962. 

Community office: 

  • 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, education, employment, benefits, 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 virus COVID-19, las oficinas físicas de Brooklyn Defender Services estarán cerradas a los visitantes hasta nuevo aviso. Sin embargo, nuestro personal está trabajando de forma remota y continuará estando en la corte para manejar admisiones, comparecencias 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 telefónico de los empleados haga click aquí.

Entendemos que son tiempos difíciles. Entendemos que las circunstancias de la vida están siendo alteradas dramáticamente debido al COVID-19. Estamos siempre 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 casos Criminales:

  • El tribunal penal está cerrado, excepto por comparecencias y emergencias.
  • Si es usted cliente, no vaya a la corte a menos que se lo indique su abogado. Los familiares de los clientes encarcelados no deben ir a la corte a menos que lo indiquen los abogados. La mayoría de los casos se suspenderán automáticamente y se dará una nueva fecha en la corte sin que tengan que comparecer los clientes.
  • Su abogado lo llamará a usted o a su familia si hay una nueva fecha en la corte. 
  • Para preguntas relacionadas con su caso, si usted tiene el número de su abogado, siéntase libre de contactarle directamente. Si no es así, para obtener información adicional, por favor llame al 718-254-0700.
  • Nota: Si conoce a alguien o tiene un ser querido encarcelado que se siente enfermo o tiene dificultades para obtener atención médica,por favor contacte a servicios carcelarios al 646-787-3325 (Inglés) o al  646-971-2710 (Español). La persona en cuestión debe estar representada por BDS.


Para casos de Familia:

  • El Tribunal de Familia estará cerrado para todos los casos, excepto emergencias. 
  • Si usted es un cliente, no vaya al Tribunal de Familia sin primero contactar a su abogado o trabajador social de BDS. Su caso judicial probablemente se suspenderá por 90 días.
  • Por favor llame a su abogado para su próxima fecha en la corte y para discutir cualquier problema que tenga con su caso de la corte de Familia.
  • Si no puede comunicarse con su abogado o trabajador social o si tiene una emergencia relacionada con la remoción de sus hijos, por favor llame al 347-592-2500. Si alguien no contesta, nos pondremos en contacto lo antes posible.
  • Si no es un cliente actual de BDS pero ACS lo está investigando, por favor llame al 646-974-9343 para asistencia inmediata. Si alguien no contesta, le devolveremos su llamada lo más pronto posible.


Para casos de Inmigración:

  • Para preguntas relacionadas con personas detenidas, por favor llame al 347-768-3040.
  • La corte de inmigración de Nueva York en 26 Federal Plaza y 290 Broadway estarán cerradas desde Marzo 18, 2020 Hasta el 10 de Abril como mínimo.Revise EOIR’s website para obtener la información más actualizada sobre cierres de tribunales. Las audiencias se reprogramarán y se enviarán nuevos avisos sobre las mismas. Hable con su abogado si no sabe si tiene que ir a la corte.
  • La corte de inmigracion de Nueva York en Varick Street continua operando para las personas detenidas.
  • Para rastrear su caso, por favor llame al 1-800-898-7180 o visite el sitio web  https://portal.eoir.justice.gov/InfoSystem/Form?Language=EN
  • Todos los requisitos de informes de ICE de inmigrantes no detenidos han sido suspendidos hasta el cierre de operaciones el 14 de abril de 2020. Todas las citas para informar en persona a ERO New York City, o cualquiera de las sub-oficinas en Central Islip y Newburgh, así como para informar en persona a los contratistas (BI) en ATD, se han cancelado y se reprogramarán.
  • No se han suspendido los informes telefónicos.   
  • Las oficinas de USCIS están cerradas al menos hasta el 1 de abril de 2020. Siga su sitio web para obtener la información más actualizada: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-response-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
  • ICE continúa sus operaciones de cumplimiento, incluyendo arrestos en hogares, lugares de negocios y cerca de tribunales. Conozca sus derechos viendo nuestra serie de videos: us
  • Si tiene preguntas sobre su caso, si ya tiene el número de teléfono de su abogado, no dude en comunicarse directamente. Si tiene más preguntas, por favor llame al 718-564-6290.


Para vivienda o casos civiles:

  • El tribunal de vivienda está cerrado, excepto en casos de emergencia. 
  • Habrá acceso limitado a la corte para asuntos de emergencia, como cierres ilegales o condiciones de vivienda extremas. Si tiene preguntas o cree que esto se aplica a usted, contáctenos.
  • Todos los desalojos en la ciudad de Nueva York han sido suspendidos indefinidamente.
  • Si usted es un cliente con una próxima cita en la corte, no vaya a la corte a menos que se lo indique su abogado. Todas las fechas de la corte están siendo reprogramadas.
  • Su abogado lo llamará con su nueva fecha de corte. También recibirá una nueva fecha por correo o puede buscarla aquí: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcivilLocal/LCMain.
  • Si ya es un cliente con preguntas sobre su caso, comuníquese directamente con su abogado.
  • Si usted es un cliente de Brooklyn Defender Services con un problema legal civil que aún no trabaja con nuestro equipo, o no recuerda con quién está trabajando, comuníquese con nuestro coordinador de admisión al 332-213-4193.


Para casos judiciales de violencia doméstica integrada (IDV): 

  • La corte IDV está cerrada. No se están llevando a cabo asuntos penales o familiares.
  • Si es cliente, no vaya a la corte. Todos los casos se suspenden automáticamente a una nueva fecha de corte. Su abogado lo llamará con la nueva fecha de corte.
  • Todas las órdenes de visitas y custodia siguen siendo las mismas. Si se ha emitido una orden de protección contra usted, permanecerá vigente.
  • Si tiene preguntas sobre su caso, si ya tiene el número de teléfono de su abogado, no dude en comunicarse con directamente. De lo contrario, o para obtener información adicional, llame al 718-254-0700.


Para preguntas sobre beneficios públicos:

  • Las oficinas de la HRA permanecen abiertas para nuevas solicitudes de asistencia en efectivo o atrasos de alquiler. No están tomando ninguna acción de caso negativa por citas perdidas u otros requisitos del programa. Las solicitudes de SNAP, la recertificación para los destinatarios actuales y algunas otras acciones se pueden completar aquí: https://a069-access.nyc.gov/accesshra/
  • Si tiene preguntas o desea hablar con la práctica civil, solicite a su abogado que lo remita o contáctenos al 718-254-0700 ext. 260.


Educación y Empleo: 

  • Todas las escuelas están cerradas al menos hasta el 20 de Abril del 2020. El aprendizaje a distancia comenzó el lunes 23 de Marzo  El. Las familias que todavía necesitan tecnología para proporcionar el aprendizaje a distancia tienen que completar este formulario: https://coronavirus.schools.nyc/RemoteLearningDevices. También puede llamar al 718-935-5100 o contactar al director de la escuela si no ha recibido un dispotivio y o si ha completado el formulario. Para obtener información general sobre el aprendizaje de distancia, visite https://www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home/information-on-remote-learning.
  • El Departamento de Educación ha indicado que está dispuesto a proporcionar apoyos y servicios para todos estudiantes, particularmente para los estudiantes con discapacidades.
  • Si necesita más información sobre los derechos educativos de su hijo en este tiempo incierto, o beneficios de empleos porque el cronoavirus ha afectado su capacidad trabajar, contactenos al (929) 314-0962.


Oficina de la comunidad:

  • Nuestra oficina comunitaria está cerrada actualmente, pero estamos trabajando de forma remota y disponibles para ayudar.
  • Si tiene problemas o preguntas sobre ACS, vivienda, educación, empleo, beneficios, asuntos penales o asuntos legales generales, llame al 646-971-2722 o envíenos 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
Suprotik Basu, 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.

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 (BDS) seeks a full-time paralegal to work with our Youth & Communities Project attorneys and staff to challenge the deportation of our noncitizen clients and secure immigration benefits for which they are eligible.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services is accepting applications for a Lead Investigator to work in the Homicide/Major Felony Unit. The Investigator will work as part of the defense team assisting defense counsel and the client throughout all phases of the criminal prosecution.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


Brooklyn Defender Services seeks a highly motivated and energetic administrative assistant who will work out of our Courthouse office. We seek an assistant who works well with colleagues and clients, can multi-task and is comfortable in a very fast-paced environment.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Associate Director is a senior management position, created to partner with YNY’s Executive Director – also its founder and creative lead – in instilling structure and operational diligence to the growing programs and team. The position will have day-to-day responsibility for the efficient running of YNY operations.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


The Criminal Defense Practice will be interviewing third year law students this fall for full-time post-graduate positions that would begin in September 2020. Our interviewers will meet with candidates at the law schools and job fairs listed below:

National BLSA Conference 8/2

Harvard 9/9

Roger Williams University 9/13

Northeastern University 9/13

Fordham 9/16

Cardozo 9/17

Columbia 9/18

Brooklyn Law 9/20

Pace 9/20

NYU 9/23, 25

Touro 9/24

NY Law 9/25

CUNY 9/26

St. John’s 9/27

Hofstra 9/27

Equal Justice Works 10/18,19

Mass Law Consortium (TBA)

All interested candidates who are currently attending one of the law schools we will be visiting should apply for an interview through their institution’s on-campus interviewing (OCI) Symplicity system. Students who are not attending one of these schools should apply through one of the job fairs we are attending. Alternatively, students not attending one of the listed schools and not able to attend one of the job fairs may apply by submitting their cover letter and resume directly to cdpjobs@bds.org  before the November 15th , 2019 deadline.



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 fast-paced setting. FDP seeks a social worker to become part of the out of court advocate team of social workers and parent advocates.

See idealist.org for full job posting.


BDS seeks 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.


The Criminal Defense Practice is currently accepting applications from practicing attorneys who would like to continue their careers as a criminal defense public defender with BDS. We are looking for attorneys with exceptional written and oral advocacy skills who bring creativity and passion to the defense of their clients. Candidates who have criminal defense experience are especially encouraged to apply.

Interested applicants should submit a current resume and a cover letter explaining their desire to join BDS and detailing their bar admission status, as well as their experience in the law and relevant criminal defense or related experience. Attorneys who are currently under a commitment to their present employers should wait until their commitment is nearing completion to apply.

Applications should be mailed to the attention of Richard LaFontaine, Esq., Director of Recruiting, Brooklyn Defender Services, 177 Livingston Street, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201, or sent via email to cdpjobs@bds.org


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. At this time we are no longer accepting applications for the Criminal Defense Practice Summer 2020 internship. If you are interested in a family defense internship contact Ambika Panday at apanday@bds.org. If you are interested in a Civil Justice Practice internship, contact Lauren Price at lprice@bds.org.

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

Internships are also available with the BDS Immigration Practice in three focus areas: Padilla, where attorneys work closely with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky; the Youth and Communities Project providing BDS clients and Brooklyn residents with affirmative immigration benefits and removal defense; and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a first-in-the-nation program that provides legal representation for indigent New Yorkers in detained removal proceedings. To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org with “Summer Internship” in the subject heading.

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.

BDS Immigration Practice Summer 2018 Internship 

Description and Responsibilities:

The Immigration Practice of Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) seeks summer 2018 law student interns. BDS is one of the largest public defense providers in the United States.  We represent more than 45,000 clients per year in a variety of legal proceedings in New York City, primarily indigent criminal, family, and immigration defense.

The Immigration Practice has three primary focus areas: Padilla, Youth and Communities, and NYIFUP.

First, Padilla attorneys work in close collaboration with BDS criminal defenders to avoid or minimize the negative immigration consequences of their noncitizen clients’ criminal cases, and to ensure clients are fully advised of those consequences pursuant to our obligations under the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. In some cases, Padilla attorneys continue to advocate for BDS clients after the criminal case is disposed. We advocate against our clients’ immigration detention, defend them in immigration removal proceedings, and provide assistance applying for immigration benefits.

Second, the Youth and Communities Project provides a full range of immigration legal services to BDS clients and Brooklyn residents, including removal defense and affirmative immigration benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), permanent residence, and victim and trafficking visas. We both identify clients in-house through our criminal and family defense practice and also participate in external clinics in close partnership with numerous community-based organizations.

Third, BDS serves as assigned counsel under the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—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 non-detained removal proceedings if our efforts result in the clients’ release. NYIFUP attorneys provide ongoing representation to clients facing immigration detention and deportation on a wide array of defenses, applications, and other creative advocacy efforts.

Initially, Immigration Practice interns will be assigned to one of these three practice areas with the opportunity to work with multiple attorneys.  Based on interest, previous experience and capacity, the intern may also be able to be work in other practice areas.


We seek dynamic students currently enrolled in law school with a demonstrated commitment to defending immigrants accused and/or convicted of crimes. Applicants should have a strong substantive background in immigrant rights, criminal justice, and/or social justice issues. Applicants should also possess the ability to perform nuanced legal research and writing, to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, and to be a team player.

All internships are volunteer positions. However, BDS will work with students to secure funding from outside sources or class credits where available. Most summer interns work full-time for 10-12 weeks, although we will consider split summers on a case by case basis.


Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, or other second-language fluency is preferred but not required.

Application Instructions:

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least two references to Sophie Dalsimer at sdalsimer@bds.org. We are no longer accepting applications for summer 2018. Inquiries for term-time positions are still welcome.


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.

The internship has a rolling admission deadline, and start and end dates can accommodate academic schedules.

To apply, submit a resume and cover letter to Timothy McErlean at tmcerlean@bds.org with the subject “Investigative Assistant Application.” Please specify which cycle you are applying to work for and if you would like to work full or part time (e.g., Spring 2020, full time). Resumes and cover letters will only be accepted by email; if selected for an interview applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.





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


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 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.





March 27, 2020

CONTACT: Daniel Ball, 203-213-9303 dball@bds.org 



Federal Judge in Southern District of New York Finds Detention Under Unsafe Conditions was Unconstitutional; Holds ICE Accountable for Failure to Consider Release for People Most at Risk.

(NEW YORK, NY) – Last night, Judge Analisa Torres ordered the immediate release of ten immigrants detained by ICE in Hudson, Bergen, and Essex County Correctional Facilities, after Brooklyn Defender Services filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Southern District of New York, seeking their release from ICE custody because of ICE’s inability to protect them during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The order finds that ICE has been and continues to be deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs and ignores the threat caused by COVID-19 “that will likely cause imminent, life-threatening illness.”

Andrea Saenz, Attorney-in-Charge, New York Immigrant Family Unity Project at Brooklyn Defender Services, issued the following statement:

“This is the first federal court in the nation to find that ICE is showing deliberate indifference to the safety of detained people who have medical conditions putting them at high risk if they contract COVID-19 – so much that their detention is likely unconstitutional and they must be immediately released. We felt like we had no time to lose, with ICE ignoring our requests for release, and brought as many clients as we could to the attention of the federal court as fast as we could, asking them to hold ICE accountable. This was a huge victory, but we’re going to keep fighting to free them all.”

Brooke Menschel, Civil Rights Counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, issued the following statement: 

“By keeping people detained, despite the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus and specific vulnerabilities, the government is putting people’s lives at stake by acting with blatant disregard for their health and well-being. Judge Torres agreed: ‘Respondents have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, deliberate indifference to Petitioners’ medical needs.’ This decision is an important reminder that the government cannot completely disregard people’s humanity and ignore imminent threats without violating the U.S. Constitution.”


Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) is a non-profit public defense office in Brooklyn, New York. BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration and other civil legal services, and social work support to over 30,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year.




March 26, 2020


CONTACT: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org





BDS Renews Call to Release Incarcerated People and Halt New Admissions to NYC Jails; Condemns Dangerous Jail Conditions

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement in response to reports that 75 incarcerated people and 45 NYC jails staff members tested positive for COVID-19 and numerous accounts from our clients of disturbing and dangerous conditions inside of the jails:

“For weeks, we have joined defenders, advocates, incarcerated people, medical professionals, and elected officials to warn of the grave risks that an outbreak of COVID-19 in jails and prisons poses to incarcerated people, staff, and all New Yorkers. As the virus spreads like wildfire through Rikers Island, we worry that every hour that passes brings us closer to disaster and death, whether inside the facilities or shortly after release. Given the extremely high infection rate in jails to date, we fear that no one in the jails — whether incarcerated people or staff — is safe. Too few have been released thus far and too slowly. Elected officials at every level of government must take immediate action to initiate mass release and halt new admissions before it is too late.” 

Brooklyn Defender Services’ clients incarcerated at the jail facilities at Rikers Island have reported many concerns about the lack of medical attention, lack of hygiene products, isolation, squalid living conditions, and other disturbing reports of mistreatment, including:

  • Overflowing sewage running through a housing unit, which continued to house people before, during, and after the incident. In addition to the general inhabitability of these conditions, COVID-19 is believed to spread through fecal matter;
  • Squalid conditions, including units that have not been sanitized, and staff who refuse to clean out of concern for their own exposure to COVID-19;
  • Being turned away from the medical unit due to lack of available appointments;
  • Requests for  medical attention (also known as “sick calls”) for people who cannot leave their cells going unanswered for as long as two weeks;
  • Symptomatic people not being tested for COVID-19 or having their temperature checked;
  • Housing sick people who have not been confirmed to have COVID-19, as well as with people who are considered “high risk” due to underlying health issues, in close proximity to people with confirmed cases in newly reopened housing units;
  • Placing sick people in solitary confinement in lieu of medical treatment for the duration of their symptoms;
  • No precautions taken for people who were regularly in contact with a guard who is believed to have COVID-19 –even while people in that unit are now symptomatic;
  • Phones are not being sanitized between use, and people who request supplies to sanitize the phones themselves are being told that none are available;
  • People exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms may be provided one single-use face mask by medical staff before being sent back to their housing units without being tested, only to have those masks confiscated by guards upon their return to their units;
  • Sick people preparing food for general consumption;
  • No masks provided to people preparing food and food being served on dirty trays;
  • Soap is unavailable, both because it is not being provided or replaced in the communal bathrooms and because it is sold out at commissary;
  • Sleeping in communal dorms of roughly 50 people less than two feet apart from one another
  • Guards who are coughing at work and failing to take precautions to protect the people they have contact with;
  • And a general panic, among both incarcerated people and staff, as this dangerous situation quickly escalates.

Incarceration is devastating to personal and public health under normal circumstances, and inadequate access to medical care has long been and continues to be a concern for incarcerated people. This pandemic raises the stakes, as jails are uniquely poor environments for stopping or containing viral outbreaks. Jail medical personnel have made this clear: the only way to truly protect people is to release them.


  1. Mayor de Blasio’s proposed release of some people serving sentences of under one year from Rikers Island is helpful, but there are hundreds more who are not being released at this time who also deserve to stay healthy and be with their families during this unprecedented crisis. 
  2. More must be done to assess and immediately release individuals being held pretrial who are at grave risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19.
  3. Defense attorneys must be given access to their clients through phone, video or other methods so we can advocate for individuals with medical and other needs.
  4. Governor Cuomo and the state legislature must leave our bail laws intact. Certainly, now is not the time to consider measures to increase the jail population, just as we have already reduced the total number of people in jails across the state by nearly 7,000 and reduced the number of older people in Rikers by nearly half. 
  5. Governor Cuomo must use his staff resources to expedite and issue clemency for older, sick, and pregnant people and to order the release of all people detained on technical parole violations at Rikers and other local jails.
  6. Governor Cuomo must revise the emergency Executive Order that suspends due process requirements and is causing individuals to stay in jail even when the charges might otherwise be dropped.  





March 13, 2020



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

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

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




NYC Public Defenders Also Calling for Postponement of Appointments for People Under ICE Supervised Release 

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Legal Aid Society – New York City’s defender organizations providing free legal representation to detained immigrants through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP)  today called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to respond to the growing COVID-19 crisis by releasing all people in their custody at New York City-area detention facilities, halting arrests in the tri-state area, and postponing appointments for people placed under ICE supervised release. 

The statement comes after ICE failed to respond to a demand letter issued on Friday, March 6, 2020 to ICE and the wardens of the jails that contract with ICE – Bergen County Jail, Essex County Correctional Facility, Hudson County Correctional Facility, and Orange County Jail – seeking information about the agencies’ plans to address the impending spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. 

The NYIFUP organizations release the following joint statement:

“Last Friday, the NYIFUP organizations contacted ICE and other local jail officials to ensure that ICE and local jail officials were implementing safety and preventive measures to protect currently-incarcerated people from COVID-19 at the Bergen County Jail, Essex County Correctional Facility, Hudson County Correctional Facility, and Orange County Jail. ICE has thus far not responded, and has failed to provide any guidance on any measures that are being taken to protect the people held in their custody from COVID-19.

Instead, we have learned through the people we represent who are incarcerated in these jails that they are not receiving basic disinfectants, soap, hand sanitizer, or even toilet paper. These abysmal conditions and lack of response to our inquiries underscores that the ongoing incarceration of people by ICE during the global COVID-19 pandemic is not only a policy failure but an abhorrent health crisis that must be addressed immediately.

As advocates and attorneys who work every day on behalf of people held inside these jails, we have witnessed how ICE has repeatedly proven recklessly indifferent to their safety, and at times, even to their lives. The safest preventative measure for the incarcerated people we represent every day is to immediately restore their freedom and physical liberty. Because ICE and local jail officials have demonstrated that they cannot guarantee their safety, we call on ICE to immediately release all people in their custody at these four facilities. 

At a minimum, ICE must release people who are at the highest risk of serious health complications if they contract COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to, older adults, pregnant women, people with respiratory conditions, people who are immunocompromised (including people who are HIV+), people with severe mental health conditions, and people with other chronic health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to infection. All of these individuals should be released with a discharge plan, along with a minimum of 30-day supply of medications as required by law, for post-release treatment and services in community-based settings.

Additionally, we urge ICE to halt all arrests in the tri-state area and postpone appointments for people who are under supervised release in the New York field office. Arresting people in the midst of a global pandemic serves no function or purpose other than to terrorize people and potentially spread a highly infectious virus. Requiring people to check in with deportation officers as they sit in crowded waiting rooms for hours at a time is dangerously counterproductive to the calls for  social distancing and limiting gatherings. 

This is a public health emergency that ICE has proven it is not equipped to handle.  We demand the immediate release of people currently in ICE custody at the aforementioned facilities, the halting of all arrests by ICE’s New York Field Office, and postponement of all appointments for people under supervised release of the agency.”



March 12, 2020


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

Daniel 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)


Joint Defender Statement Calling for Immediate Release of Vulnerable Incarcerated New Yorkers in Response to Coronavirus

“Thousands of people are currently detained in New York jails and prisons in conditions that have long been unsanitary and unsafe. These facilities are particularly vulnerable in the event of a public health crisis like the ongoing spread of Coronavirus. It is clear and deeply troubling that the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) are inadequately prepared for this crisis.

Because DOCCS and DOC officials cannot guarantee the safety and health of the people we represent, we call on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to immediately release individuals who are at the highest risk of serious health complications if they contract the Coronavirus.  This includes older adults, pregnant women, people with respiratory conditions, people who are immunocompromised, and people with other chronic health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable. They should be released with a discharge plan, along with adequate supply of medications, for post-release treatment and services in community-based settings.

Additionally, we urge Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to instruct judges across the state to release anyone held in pretrial detention or held solely for administrative reasons, including violations of conditional discharge, violation of parole, and immigration detainers. Judges should be instructed not to put anyone in pretrial detention for missed court dates who is out on their own recognizance or who is on supervised release. The vast majority of cases where the person is not incarcerated should be adjourned to a later date and/or accused people should not be made to appear in court for their cases.

Further isolating incarcerated people is not a solution and will not protect anyone from harm. Releasing people from New York’s prisons and jails and limiting court appearances for accused people who are not detained will reduce the chance of a devastating outbreak, protecting the health of those who are at liberty as well as those who are incarcerated, visitors, and staff. Fewer people in prisons and jails will reduce the need for heightened medical care, particularly when there may be reduced staff as a result of an outbreak. Access to medical treatment has long been and remains a fundamental concern for incarcerated people. The potential for an epidemic makes a dire situation even worse.

A coronavirus outbreak in our overcrowded, poorly maintained jails and prison facilities would be devastating, swift, and deadly. It is incumbent on our leaders to do everything they can to protect all of their constituents, including incarcerated people.

This proposal has recent precedent among other countries handling this exact same crisis. This week, Iran released 70,000 people in prison from custody in an effort to curtail the impacts of the outbreak there.

Taking sensible steps to release vulnerable people serves the public interest in a way that continued mass detention does not. We call on state and local leaders to work together to identify people for immediate release. Additionally, we urge ICE to utilize its inherent discretion to release detained immigrants to their families and communities while they complete their cases.”




Activists rally outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse at 100 Centre St on March 14, 2019 in New York. They called on Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Cance, Jr. to resign for failing to support the Bail Elimination Act of 2019 and the Discovery for Justice Reform Act. (Alec Tabak/for New York Daily News)


In January 2019, almost one year to the date before the new bail reforms in New York went into effect, I met a 64-year-old man named Adrian Rose. Rose had just been arrested and charged with a violent felony assault for allegedly attacking an EMS officer in the back of an ambulance while on the way to a hospital in Brooklyn, a claim he adamantly denies.

Despite the seriousness of the allegation, the judge did not set bail. Instead, she released him on his own recognizance and he was given a date to appear.

Given the current climate of fearmongering and sensationalism over bail reform, it may be hard to imagine, but Rose, like the vast majority of people arrested, charged and arraigned in New York City for decades predating the new bail law, was released without any fanfare.

No reporters were camped out in Brooklyn criminal court looking for cases to plaster onto the covers of the following day’s editions. There were no photographers to capture images of people in need of help, who reporters could then deride as “lunatics” or “jailbirds.” Police and prosecutors did not notify media ahead of time as part of their now-coordinated effort to incite fear in the general public about “violent criminals” and “crooks” roaming the streets. No police or prosecutor made inflammatory claims that they later had to admit were not true.

And after Rose’s release, there was no “chaos.” There was no “disaster.”

Far from it, Rose, like tens of thousands of others charged with all types of accusations before the bail laws ever went into effect, was simply trusted to show up to court, and he did.

To date, Rose has appeared at all 19 of his required court appearances, despite serious physical ailments and painful health conditions that require him to walk with a cane. At liberty instead of in jail, Rose was able to retain access to his doctors and specialists, and was also able to maintain his housing in a specialized shelter.

He has not been rearrested. Perhaps most significantly, he has been able to continue to maintain his innocence while fighting his case from a position of freedom, better able to assist me in his defense without the extraordinary pressure to plead guilty that pretrial detention imposes.

Rose’s experience is not novel or unique.

Public defenders know well what it really looks like when people are released, even those like Rose charged with violent felonies, instead of being jailed for their poverty. It does not mean “mayhem.” It means keeping families together; fostering jobs and productivity and help instead of hurt; saving taxpayer money; safeguarding health, freedom and public safety. It means an overwhelmingly likely (95%) return rate and overwhelmingly unlikely (2%) re-arrest rate for violent felonies.

Yet New York police and prosecutors, often partnering with the media, are now working overtime cherry-picking outlier cases and stoking fear to make it seem like releasing people, who are innocent until proven guilty, before their trial is some “wrong and insane” concept without precedent. As a public defender who has represented thousands of people in Brooklyn over the last eight years, I can confirm that these are outright lies and distortions. These cynical tactics, designed to maintain power and perpetuate unfairness and oppression at the expense of poor people, predominately from black and Latinx communities, are part of a long, racist tradition of criminal justice fearmongering.

Reject the fear and listen to this reality: New York bail reform is no more than a continuation of the measured, steady decline in those detained pretrial that has, in turn, paralleled a significant drop in crime rates.

In New York City, as jail incarceration rates have decreased by 74% over the last 3 decades, from 21,674 in 1991 to 5,674 as of Jan. 21, 2020, major felony crimes have simultaneously dropped by nearly 82%. For years, Brooklyn’s district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, has been practicing what the bail law now requires: consenting to release for most people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to fight their cases while at liberty. In the same period, not only were Brooklyn’s streets not filled with blood, the violent crime rate has plummeted.

New Yorkers should not give any credence to the exaggerated worst-case scenarios of police and prosecutors. We’ve already seen the truth and that is what we should rely on.

The new bail laws, derived from years of advocacy and experience, are an incremental step of simply disallowing the setting of bail on people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, all while increasing the availability of pretrial services for individuals who need it.

In the end, lawmakers decided to continue to allow judges to retain the discretion to jail (or release) people, like Rose, who are accused of a violent felony, if based on the individual facts of the case and circumstances of the person before them, they believe that makes sense. This is essentially the same policy that has always been in effect, but today, there are more options for services, including non-jail supervision and electronic monitoring that were not previously available.

The new bail laws are founded on the principle that if we truly want to stop incarcerating people before they have a trial, we have to limit judicial discretion in the bail-determination context.

That’s because for decades, public defenders saw what affording judges discretion to set bail in misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies really looked like. Despite New York having one of the most progressive bail laws in the country — a strong presumption in favor of release, the rejection of the concept of labeling people as “dangerous” or expecting judges to predict the future, and the availability of multiple forms of bail intended to ensure more people were released — judges routinely and purposefully set bail in amounts people could not afford.

The result: Thousands of people were locked up, pretrial, presumed innocent, and only because they were poor. The problem was not the previous bail law we had. It was trusting that most judges would follow its words and spirit.

Despite these truths, fear is a powerful force. And when used effectively, particularly in election years like the one in which we now find ourselves, it can all too easily create the political desire to pass harsh, costly and irrational laws that have an outsized and devastating impact on the people and communities I serve, or in this case, roll back the modest reforms that were put into place.

Now, sensing that fear is triumphing over reason, police and prosecutors are not just calling to give judges back the discretion they previously had which was used to increase incarceration. They are calling to give judges, for the first time in New York’s history, new discretion to detain people by trying to predict future dangerousness, a position already rejected by Albany lawmakers based on study after study as likely to exacerbate racism in jail decisions and not improve safety or make the system fairer.

Ending cash bail does not require the creation of a brand new mechanism to incarcerate people pretrial. Armed with even more power and discretion to do so, most judges will do so. We know this from experience.

Just last week, I stood next to a parentless teenager charged with gun possession, a violent felony under New York law, who has been released since August with no new arrests and is actively engaged with a youth social worker from Brooklyn Defender Services. I am certain he would have been deemed “dangerous” and detained.

That same day, I worked with a man charged with a misdemeanor, who needed housing, family and mental health services. Since his release in July 2019, he has been back to court six times and is now connected with a social worker and housing attorney. He is getting help instead of jail, but he easily could have been deemed dangerous and detained.

Adrian Rose, my client charged with violent felony assault, also could have been held in jail if judges were empowered to try to predict future behavior. Detained for the duration of his case with substandard health care, I firmly believe he would not have made it out alive.

Reactive criminal justice policy driven by outlier cases and stoked by fear tinged by racism is how we got into the current crisis of mass incarceration.

We must have patience for change. If we allow fear to triumph over truth and reason, the effort to “roll back” the bail laws could make matters worse than the conditions that drove New York lawmakers to reform the bail law in the first place. Our lawmakers must stand proudly, assured that they took this step towards basic human dignity. I am sure that that the right to be at liberty before one’s trial takes place will soon be seen as a basic human right. Let us all stand together and support this first step in that direction.

Hechinger is senior staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services. He tweets at @scotthech, and just helped launch a new campaign Justice Not Fear committed to spreading the truth about bail reform.






Jacqueline Caruana – Senior Trial Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice


Presented before:

The New York State Assembly

Committee on Codes and Committee on Correction


Hearing on Sealing of Criminal Records

and Expansion of Youthful Offender Status


December 10, 2019




My name is Jacqueline Caruana and I am a Senior Staff Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 30,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank Chairpersons Joseph R. Lentol and David I. Weprin, as well as other members of the New York State Assembly Committees on Codes and Correction, for their leadership in criminal justice reform.

Brooklyn Defender Services’ has a specialized adolescent unit, called the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team, or BART. Our team represents over two thousand adolescents ages 13-21 annually. This includes adolescents detained at Crossroads and Horizons, ACS detention facilities in Brooklyn and the Bronx, as well as young people detained on Rikers Island.



New York’s Youthful Offender (“YO”) law (Criminal Procedure Law § 720) provides the opportunity for any youth under the age of 19 to have a criminal conviction substituted with a non-criminal adjudication at sentencing. The YO law, which gives judges’ discretion to grant YO in more serious cases and is mandatory for first-time, low-level offenses, allows for reduced prison sentences and automatic sealing. 75 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds have their convictions converted to Youthful Offender adjudications.

These cases concern the most vulnerable young people in the adult system.  Many of these YO findings prevent mandatory upstate prison time and have a significant impact on the number of young people in prison.  The YO statute allows judges to use alternatives, including mental health and drug treatments, as well as proven youth-focused programs and the resources of the Department of Probation to help place young people on a better course.  The fact that the record is immediately sealed improves the young person’s opportunities for employment, education and housing and provides critical protection from deportation. The existing statute does not allow judges to grant YO status to older adolescents ages 19-25 years old.

Modern neuroscience research indicates that a young person’s brain does not fully develop until their mid-twenties.[1] The Youthful Offender age limit should be expanded to protect young people ages 19-25 from many of the worst harms of criminalization while they age out of the impairment in judgment associated with their youth.

Expanding the existing Youthful Offender Status

Under the existing law, those under the age of 19 would be eligible to receive youthful offender status and have convictions sealed. However, for most offenses, the eligibility determination is a discretionary process determined by the judge. Therefore, Brooklyn Defender Services supports making YO eligibility for all D and E felonies, Acting in Concert Robbery in the Second Degree (P.L. 160.10 (1)), and felony drug offenses (Article 220 of the Penal Law) mandatory.

Other offenses, specifically A-I or class A-II felony defined in Articles 125, 130, 130, 485, or 490 of the criminal procedure law, or an armed felony offense or of rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, or aggravated sexual abuse should still be considered for YO eligibility on a discretionary basis. The current YO legislation requires the court to look for mitigation within the facts of the offense. However, this leaves judges without the ability to consider other pertinent factors such as the history and background of the young person, as well as prospects for rehabilitation. For this reason, BDS supports adding a list of additional factors so that the court can consider whether the interest of justice would be served by relieving the young person from the onus of a criminal record.

Lastly, a young person should not be barred from receiving Youthful Offender Status on a case, simply because they have “used” or received first offender status on a previous case. The last decade has given rise to a series of Supreme Court decisions that rely upon common sense, science, and social science to require that youth be considered differently than adults in both criminal procedure and sentencing matters.  “There is evidence from brain science that the brain doesn’t completely mature until sometime during the early twenties”.[2]  As we all know, teenagers often make more than one mistake before consequential thinking, part of their late adolescent development, really takes hold.  Multiple opportunities for YO is of upmost importance in making sure those involved in the criminal justice system are not burdened with the lifelong repercussions of a criminal record and possible long jail sentences. Maturity in judgement can take time to develop, giving a young person Youthful Offender Status (along with supportive services) doesn’t mean that s/he has automatically outgrown and matured beyond the natural impulsivity and negative peer pressure that are the hallmarks of adolescence. As such, the court system must be flexible and designed to account for the fact that young people may make multiple mistakes and deserve to be treated as the adolescents they are.

Creating the Young Adult Offender Status

Many of our young clients are between the ages of 19 and 25. As mentioned, current neuroscience research proves that a young person’s brain does not fully develop until their mid-twenties. As a result, our clients that fall into this 19-25 age group are facing the severe collateral consequences of having a criminal record for the rest of their lives. Additionally, these young people are facing the same mandatory minimum sentencing provisions as adults charged with the same offenses. The protections afforded to those under the age of 19 should be appropriately extended, in some respects, to those aged 19-25.

However, simply changing the age of eligibility for Youthful Offender Status would have serious unintended consequences for young people who are non-citizens. Under the current laws, non-citizens that are afforded YO status are not subject to removability (inadmissibility or deportability) as a result of a YO case. That’s because the Board of Immigration Appeals has interpreted Article 720 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law, to correspond with a determination of Juvenile Delinquency under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act. [3] That correlation is crucial in protecting young non-citizens from the severe and permanent immigration consequences that would otherwise be invoked if they were prosecuted as adults; those consequences include mandatory detention in immigration custody, deportation, and eligibility for legal defenses to deportation. Any disturbance or expansion of the current Youthful Offender framework (as to age) increases the risk that it will be found not to correspond to the FJDA, and exempt youthful offenders from the immigration protections they currently retain.

Separate and apart from immigration consequences, we recognize that there are differences between the two age groups. As such, we acknowledge that the protections afforded to those receiving Young Adult Offender Status (YAO) as opposed to YO may be different, but we urge the legislature to keep these protections relatively the same.

Client Stories

Ms. W is 22 years old. She had never been arrested before this case. She is accused of committing a robbery in the second degree. The prosecution alleges that Ms. W took money from a man’s wallet, while her co-defendant was assaulting the man. Ms. W’s co-defendant has a criminal record. Ms. W has not been accused of assaulting anyone, only her co-defendant is accused of causing physical injury to someone. At the time of her arrest Ms. W was trying to get her GED. After she was arrested, she completed the GED program and obtained a job working for a store at JFK airport. But when her employer found out that she had this criminal case pending they fired her, despite her lawyer’s attempt to explain to her employer that she did not have a criminal record, but instead a pending case. Ms. W has also been seeing a counselor and has been approved to participate in the Women’s Prison Association Program, which is an ATI (alternative to incarceration) program. Despite all of this, the prosecution is currently offering Ms. W a plea offer of 3 ½ years in prison. In addition to a prison sentence, she would have a felony conviction on her record for the rest of her life. If the legislature were to pass legislation authorizing the creation of a Young Adult Offender Status, Ms. W’s lawyer could ask the judge to consider sentencing Ms. W to a non-prison sentence and YAO, which would seal her record. Without YAO, Ms. W must rely on the discretion of the prosecution and obtain their consent for a plea offer. It is very unlikely that even if Ms. W was to receive a non-prison plea offer from the prosecution that she would avoid having a criminal record for the rest of her life.

Ms. P is 22 years old. She does not have a criminal record. She is accused of committing an Assault 2, because she is alleged to have assaulted a man with a stick.  Ms. P has a 3-year-old son and at the time she was arrested she was working as a home health aide. She has since lost that job. She has been making court appearances since March of 2019 but was having difficulty managing child care during the pendency of her case. She lives with her mother and son in public housing. Similar to Ms. W, without a plea offer from the prosecution that would result in non-jail and a non-criminal conviction, Ms. P is facing serious collateral and enduring consequences. She stands to lose her housing, her ability at obtaining gainful employment, and custody of her child if she were to go to jail or prison. If the legislature were to pass legislation authorizing the creation of a Young Adult Offender Status, Ms. P’s lawyer could ask the judge to consider sentencing Ms. P to a non-prison sentence and YAO, which would seal her record.

Mr. B was 21 at the time he was arrested.  Because of his age he was not eligible for Youthful Offender treatment and he ended up taking a plea to a single count of unlawful imprisonment in the first degree with a prison sentence of 1-3 years. While he was incarcerated, he completed multiple college courses, graduating at the top of his class. He also completed his OSHA certification. Since he was released from prison, he has continued to further his education but has sincerely struggled in finding employment because of his criminal record. He has applied to several jobs, including a job with Amazon, where he was specifically denied because of his criminal record. He has also to had to move out of his mother’s apartment because she lives in public housing and she was told that if he continued to live with her she would be evicted because of his felony record. Mr. B is a prime example of a young person who made a mistake at an age when he was especially vulnerable and impressionable. He is doing everything he can to make a future for himself, despite having served time in prison, yet his criminal record will forever hold him back. If the legislature were to pass legislation authorizing the creation of a Young Adult Offender Status, young people like Mr. B would be able to move forward with their lives making it more likely they could achieve their dreams such as Mr. B’s goal to start his own business.


Expanding eligibility for Youthful Offender Status and creating a Young Adult Offender Status are critical reforms that will give judges discretion to limit the lifelong harms of criminal records and the trauma that incarceration causes on young people. We strongly urge the legislature to pass and the Governor to sign such legislation into law this session.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Jacqueline Caruana, Senior Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice, 718-254-0700 ext. 388 or jcaruana@bds.org.

[1] 2 See, e.g., Lucy Wallis, Is 25 the new cut-off point for adulthood?, BBC NEWS, Sept. 23, 2013, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24173194.

[2]  The Age of Opportunity, Lawrence Steinberg, p. 6

[3] See Matter of Devison Charles, 22 I&N Dec. 1362 (BIA 2000).



On Friday, September 20, 2019, Brooklyn Defender Services presents Zealous at A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Tickets and sponsorships still available!

Join us for an evening fundraiser with conversation and art organized by public defenders exploring how language and storytelling by those with direct experience can shift the “justice” narrative to help end mass criminalization.

The event will feature a keynote from Rabia Chaudry, an art exhibition and talk by Molly Crabapple, and conversations with Rachel Barkow, Emily Bazelon, Dwayne Betts, Josie Duffy Rice, Scott Hechinger, Andrea James, Raj Jayadev, Soledad O’Brien, Jon Rapping, and Danielle Sered.

Click here for a full rundown of the event.

Proceeds from the event will support local and national, public defender-led campaigns to end mass criminalization.

If you are interested in attending but cannot afford a ticket, please contact Kristine Herman at kherman@bds.org.



For Immediate Release…



With the Heat Index Expected to Reach 111 Degrees Tomorrow, BDS calls on NYC and DOC to Take Emergency Action

(New York, NY) – Today, Kelsey De Avila, Project Director for Jail Services at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement:

“With the scorching heat only threatening to get worse, we are extremely concerned about serious risks to people at Rikers and in other City jails. Most incarcerated people are without air conditioning and the limited number of fans are only in the day rooms, leaving people to swelter, particularly while in their cells. DOC is not providing appropriate summer clothes to many of our clients. People with medical needs have reported feeling nauseous and dizzy. Government has a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of people in jail. Yet, much like this past winter’s power outage which left people at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center on lockdown without heat and hot water amidst frigid temperatures, DOC is apparently woefully unprepared for this heat wave. We call on Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann to take immediate action to protect people in the City’s custody from dangerous heat conditions.”



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


Yung-Mi Lee – Supervising Attorney, Criminal Defense Practice

Presented before:

The New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on

Ints. 0567-2018, 0635-2018, 1244-2018, 1553-2019, 1548-2019, & T2018-2223, & Res. 0866-2019


June 27, 2019

My name is Yung-Mi Lee and I am a Supervising Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS). BDS provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy, for over 30,000 clients in Brooklyn every year. I thank Chairperson Donovan Richards and members of the Committee on Public Safety for holding this hearing on consequential legislation about which we have very serious concerns.

BDS Opposes T2018-2223 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing notice to minors included in the criminal groups database

BDS urges the Council not to advance this legislation and meet with advocates and experts working on so-called gang enforcement, including people who have been swept up in raids, public defenders, academics, community members, and others.

On June 13, 2018, my colleague Rebecca Kinsella testified before this Committee on the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) so-called gang takedown efforts. In that testimony, BDS called for the abolition of the NYPD’s gang database, or “criminal group database,” which is only the latest form of profile-based policing, or what many call Stop & Frisk 2.0. We also called for a reallocation of resources to fund Cure Violence programs and, more generally, to support rather than profile marginalized families and communities. Instead, T2018-2223, which appears to be well-intended, would entrench gang designations in the law and create an extremely limited and possibly ineffectual process for New Yorkers to determine whether they have been included in this database and, only then, petition to the NYPD to be removed, subject to the complete discretion of the Department which originally included them.

Extremely Limited “Gang Label” Notification Provision

It is possible that, under this legislation, the NYPD would have no greater obligation toward transparency that exists in the status quo. The legislation would require the NYPD to notify New Yorkers who are 17 and under whom they have entered into the gang database “unless providing such notification would compromise an active criminal investigation or the department has specific reason to believe that providing such notification would compromise the health or safety of the minor or another person.” This language is similar to language the NYPD already uses in rejecting FOIL requests regarding placements in the database and the legislation provides for no new avenue to challenge a denial.

Extremely Limited Mechanism to Contest the “Gang Label”

This legislation allows only those who are 17 and under and who have received the aforementioned notice from the NYPD to then contest their gang designation. The NYPD would then have complete discretion to reject the petition, with no evidentiary standard. This provision would create a more narrowly available mechanism of relief than what currently exists under the law, namely filing an Article 78 challenge, which New Yorkers of any age may pursue. There are significant obstacles to successfully challenging one’s gang designation, but they are not overcome by this legislation.

Codifying the Racialized Gang Label

There is currently no definition of a gang in the law. Any definition would very likely be overbroad and discriminatory in its impact, as the term itself is racialized and counter-productive. This legislation would define gangs as “formal or informal” groups of three or more people who commit a crime and, for example, follow the same clothing trends. Given the expansiveness of our criminal legal system, this definition could include nearly anybody, but we know that predominately Black and Latinx people would be targeted, particularly if this definition is later used in sentencing enhancement legislation or additions to the penal law.

The Bigger Picture

Kraig Lewis was living in Connecticut, nine credits away from his MBA. Then he and 119 others were swept up in what law enforcement hailed as the largest gang takedown in New York City history. But he was not actually part of a gang—just one of many fallacies since exposed. Kraig’s story was featured in an April 2019 article and an accompanying documentary in The Intercept, which were released on the same day CUNY School of Law Professor Babe Howell and doctoral student Priscilla Bustamante published a report on the Bronx 120 raid.[1],[2] The article also featured Nicholas Bailey, who had been arrested on robbery charges just after turning 18. The judge in his case gave him a second chance—a diversion program with no jail time—and sealed his case. He thrived for 5 years until federal law enforcement used this sealed case as a predicate to include him in the Bronx 120 raid and prosecution. Then he was sentenced to 6 years in prison. (This raid was conducted jointly by federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and local and state law enforcement.) In both of these cases, and in countless others, young New Yorkers were coerced to plead guilty to felonies, erecting lifelong barriers that will continue to haunt them and their families and communities.

In a press release, federal prosecutors highlighted several murders they linked to the alleged gang members. But, in reality, more than half of the 120 were charged with federal conspiracy based solely on drug offenses—mostly for selling marijuana. Only six were charged in connection with the murders. Also, three people had already been convicted in state court for those murders, one of whom was re-prosecuted in the federal conspiracy case, apparently to give more weight to the broader conspiracy case. In fact, more than half of the people swept up in the “gang raid” were not even alleged by prosecutors to be gang members.

Prior research has found gang allegations nearly exclusively impact Black and Latinx people. Nearly 66% of those added to the NYPD’s gang database between Dec. 2013 and Feb. 2018 were Black and 33% were Latinx.[3] This legislation would require annual reporting of this data. Yet important questions would remain, including: How does one get entered into the database? How does one get out? Do federal agencies, including ICE, have access to this database? Who else is granted access? Most importantly, is there any evidence of the efficacy of this approach? Gang databases engender mass surveillance, extremely harsh treatment in the criminal legal system, and ultimately increased marginalization, which do not improve public safety.

As one resident quoted in The Intercept’s article notes, his community was not the war zone described by law enforcement. Yet violence does occur. That is why communities across the city are developing their own solutions, like Cure Violence programs. That is why New York City must abolish its gang database.

BDS Opposes Int. No. 1244-2018 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting certain unsolicited disclosures of intimate images

Certainly, it is inappropriate to ‘Airdrop’ or otherwise send unsolicited intimate images. However, it is our position that the criminalization of this act is more likely to ensnare young people than it is to deter this type of behavior. For those who engage in this behavior, sending Airdrop images may be akin to a prank phone call. For those who receive them, it can be annoying and upsetting, but not so pernicious such that it should be criminalized. Adding this crime will likely lead to racially disparate enforcement and a series of devastating consequences. At a time when we are working towards eliminating minor criminal charges and closing Rikers Island, the New York City Council should not be looking to add or increase criminal charges.  We have learned that creating crimes does not deter behavior and instead destabilizes people’s lives, families and communities. In the alternative, we suggest that the City Council invest in an education campaign to teach people how to change their privacy settings to prevent the receipt of unsolicited images.

BDS Opposes Int. No. 1553-2019 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting unfinished frames or receivers

The mere possession of a “piece” of a firearm, such as the receiver of a firearm, is not currently illegal because it is not an “operable” weapon. New York State law is clear that a firearm is not a weapon unless it is operable. This is why every prosecution for Criminal Possession of a Firearm includes an operability test and an operability report, when the firearm is collected. The receiver of a firearm cannot discharge a bullet without the addition of other parts of a firearm. This legislation seeks to prohibit possession of any individual part of a firearm, i.e. “any material that does not constitute the frame or receiver,” which would greatly expand the scope of the law in a manner that criminalizes what could be innocent behavior.

Int. No. 1553 would provide an avenue for the prosecution of New Yorkers in the arena of firearm possession even when what they possess cannot actually be used as such. New Yorkers who possess inoperable firearms, such as relics, antiques, or even broken pieces of firearms would be subject to arrest and prosecution. People are often unaware of the items contained in their basements, storage areas, or even closets, which have been used from one generation to the next.

Lastly, the legislation does not require any specific intent element, such that possession of the receiver or unfinished receiver must be done with the specific intent to produce or manufacture a “Ghost Gun” for it to be illegal. This legislation essentially prohibits and criminalizes the possession of metal. As such we are opposed to Int. No. 1553-2019. We are similarly opposed to the required reporting of police seizure of a “frame or receiver” or “unfinished frame or receiver” in Int. 1548-2019.

BDS Supports Int. 0635-2018 – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting staged perp walks

There are many ways in which people who are arrested are publicly humiliated during the course of their criminal cases. Their names and faces are printed on the front pages of newspapers distributed across the country, often alongside dehumanizing and hateful headlines. Record sealing following the disposition of their cases cannot undo this harm, even if they are found to be fully innocent. BDS supports this legislation to prohibit staged perp walks, and commends its sponsor, Councilmember Dromm, though we note that its impact will be limited by the broader lack of accountability for police and prosecutors, which must change for this and other protections to be effective.


We thank the Council for the opportunity to speak on these issues and hope you will view BDS as a resource as we continue to work together.

If you have any question, please feel free to reach out to Jared Chausow at jchausow@bds.org.

[1] Alice Speri, The Largest Gang Raid In NYC History Swept Up Dozens Of Young People Who Weren’t In Gangs, The Intercept, Apr. 25, 2019, available at https://theintercept.com/2019/04/25/bronx-120-report-mass-gang-prosecution-rico/.

[2] Professor Babe Howell & Priscilla Bustamante , Report on the Bronx 120 Mass “Gang” Prosecution (CUNY School of Law 2019), available at https://bronx120.report/.

[3] Alice Speri, New York Gang Database Expanded By 70 Percent Under Mayor Bill De Blasio, The Intercept, June 11, 2018, available at https://theintercept.com/2018/06/11/new-york-gang-database-expanded-by-70-percent-under-mayor-bill-de-blasio/.



***For Immediate Release***

June 21, 2019


Daniel Ball, 203-213-9303, dball@bds.org

Joyce McMillan, 917-450-2611, advocateandorganize@gmail.com

The Parent Legislative Action Network Hails Passage of Historic Child Welfare Reform in the New York State Legislature and Urges the Governor to Sign the Bill into Law

A.8060-A/S.6427-A Repairs Broken State Central Register (SCR) and Removes Barriers to Employment for Thousands of Parents Statewide

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Parent Legislative Action Network, made up of affected parents, legal services providers, and non-profit organizations who have lived experiences and/or work with child welfare-involved children and families across New York State, hail the passage of critical reforms to the State Central Register (A.8060A/S.6427A) in the New York State Senate on Tuesday and the New York State Assembly late Thursday. The legislation was introduced in response to calls from advocates and parents in the communities most affected by the child welfare system, in an effort spearheaded by parent activist, Joyce McMillan of PLAN. The coalition thanks Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee for their leadership, and urges Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law immediately:

“Imposing a sentence of financial insecurities by placing parents on the State Central Register accused of neglect for up to twenty-eight years does not protect children or their families because poverty puts people at risk,” said Joyce McMillan, the We Are Parents Too Coordinator at Sinergia Inc and lead advocate of the Parent Legislative Action Network. “This bill removes these barriers and makes families safer and more secure. I thank Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee for understanding this, and for leading on this issue in the legislature.”

“For too long, the State Central Register, which is intended to help children, has instead unnecessarily hurt children and their families, particularly poor families of color,” said Chris Gottlieb, Co-Director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic. “This SCR reform is a critical improvement in our child welfare system – it will make investigations more fair and ensure that parents’ access to employment opportunity is not hampered by inaccurate and irrelevant records in the SCR.”

“The passage of this legislation brings us one step closer to one of the most important reforms to the child welfare system we have seen in years, breaking barriers to employment that hundreds of thousands of families statewide face because of an unfair and punitive State Central Register,” Lauren Shapiro, Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice. “This is a much needed change to a law that is supposed to help children, but actually hurts families, disproportionately families of color, when there is no child safety concern that even remotely justifies this constraint on their ability to support their families. On behalf of New York’s families and the many advocates who worked tirelessly on this issue, I thank Senator Montgomery and Assemblymember Jaffee for their leadership, and urge the governor to sign A.8060-A/S.6427-A.”

“For decades, New York has erected irrational immovable barriers to employment for families surveilled by ACS,” said Jessica Prince, staff attorney with the Family Defense Practice at the Bronx Defenders. “This legislation is a solid step towards removing these barriers faced by parents from historically marginalized communities.”

“These monumental changes to the State Central Register will change lives for the better for thousands of families across New York State for many years to come,” said Michelle Burrell, Managing Attorney of Neighborhood Defender Service’s Family Defense Practice. “These changes will not only strengthen the fundamental rights of parents and children, but they will also begin to chip away at the unnecessary and punitive stigma the State Central Register inflicted upon our clients for decades.”

“The passage of S6426-A/A8060-A is a critical step forward in an ongoing effort to safeguard employment opportunities for New York families while curbing the harsh and unfair effects of a record in the State Central Register, particularly for Black and Latinx parents, who are disproportionately represented,” said Jennifer Feinberg, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Family Representation. “By raising the standard from  ‘some credible evidence to a ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ parents can be reassured that they will not remain on the State Central Register after a Judge has determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of neglect in court.  Additionally, the automatic sealing of indicated reports after eight years for most jobs, and twelve years for all jobs, vastly increases parents’ employment opportunities.  Some of the best jobs in the healthcare and education fields have remained unattainable to our clients due to the current 28 year bar.  Perhaps most importantly,   this bill reflects the recognition that most cases of neglect stem from poverty and that the current unfair and unnecessary laws governing the State Central Register only add fuel to the cycle by preventing parents from securing stable and well paid jobs.  This crucial reform will strengthen New York families by providing families in poverty with greater opportunities for employment so parents can provide the stability that their families require.”

“The standards to get on the State Central Register are extremely loose and subjective, yet can create a barrier of employment for parents for up to 28 years even after cases are dismissed in court,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “This creates a cycle where parents are charged with neglect essentially because the family is in poverty, yet their ability to earn an income is crippled. With this legislation, we are starting to talk seriously about how we can provide some level of support to families in crisis and actually respond to their needs as opposed to punishing them for being poor.”

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, said, “For years, having an indicated report in New York’s Statewide Central Register has disproportionately impacted parents and families by not allowing them to request a fair hearing that considers evidence of a parent’s rehabilitation. The implications of an indicated case have severely hampered a parent’s ability to keep or secure gainful employment, affecting their ability to re-establish their lives and provide for their children and families. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families, I am pleased to have co-sponsored this legislation with overwhelming support of my colleagues in the legislature, which will help restore hope and provide equal opportunity for parents and their children to achieve economic success.”

Background on State Central Register Reform – A.8060A/S.6427A

Under current law, New York’s standard for placing parents on the SCR is far lower than that of most other jurisdictions and shares SCR records with more employers in ways that impede access to job opportunities. These include many of the best jobs that would otherwise be available to impacted parents, including in the healthcare and education fields. Most of these records are based on allegations of poverty-related neglect, which have never been reviewed by a judge. Troublingly, New York’s SCR law currently treats allegations of poverty-related neglect the same way it treats child abuse that has been proven in court. As a result, thousands of parents are routinely denied employment when there is no child safety concern that even remotely justifies this constraint on their ability to support their families. Moreover, because Black and Latinx parents are disproportionately subjected to these allegations, the impacts deepen inequality in our society. This an issue of racial and economic justice that urgently needs to be addressed.

A.8060A/S.6427A would:

  • Help prevent unfair and unnecessary harm to parents’ employment prospects by requiring a preponderance of evidence against them, rather than simply “some credible evidence,” before they are placed on the State Central Register, in line with the severity of this designation.
  • Limit unnecessary and unfair employment barriers for parents by automatically sealing indicated reports of neglect after 8 years for most jobs that have access to indicated reports on the SCR and after 12 years for all jobs that have access to these reports.
  • Ensure that SCR reports are automatically amended and sealed when a Family Court case resolves favorably.
  • Allow Fair Hearing judges to consider evidence of a parent’s rehabilitation whenever considering whether to seal an indicated report.
  • Allow people to request fair hearings to amend and seal indicated reports at any time of their choosing, as opposed to the current 90-day windows to do so.