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Ex-Jet Demario Davis leads rally for NY criminal justice reform

Demario Davis, seen here at Jets training camp

Demario Davis, seen here at Jets training camp in Florham Park, N.J., on Aug. 3, 2017. Credit: James Escher

ALBANY — Demario Davis may have left the New York Jets, but the now-New Orleans linebacker hasn’t abandoned his political cause in the Empire State.

Davis spearheaded an effort Tuesday to change New York’s criminal justice laws, especially to eliminate cash bail, ensure defense attorneys get access to full evidence in a case and beef up “speedy trial” guarantees.

“Criminal justice reform needs to happen all over the country and if we can get it right in New York, it can send shock waves all over,” Davis said, as a coalition that included the New York Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Society and the New York Defenders’ Association prepared to meet with lawmakers at the State Capitol.

Davis, who signed with the Saints in the off season, is involved in an NFL committee called “Let’s Listen Together.” Formed in the wake of the national anthem protests, the committee is attempting to address social justice issues. In December, Davis reportedly spent a day in the Bronx public defenders’ office learning criminal justice issues and met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in February. He said now is the time for change.

“There’s a consensus around the state that criminal-justice reform needs to happen,” Davis said. He said every citizen has a stake in improving fairness in the court system and that he felt a responsibility to use his “platform” to make a difference.

“The analogy I use is if there are 10 people in the house, who is responsible for cleaning the house? All 10 people,” Davis said. “This problem affects us all.”

Cuomo, in a bill, has proposed ending cash bail for those accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and improving rights to a speedy trial. But advocates say his bill doesn’t significantly expand prosecutors’ evidence-disclosure requirements and, in some instances, would further restrict disclosure. They are lobbying for broader changes.

The key remains whether the more liberal Democrat-led Assembly, the more conservative Republican-controlled Senate and Cuomo can agree to any changes and include them in the state budget, which is due April 1.

Davis, in a letter the NFL posted on its website in January, said that when he was 18, he was arrested for shoplifting while at Arkansas State University, and was held on $10,000 bail, which he couldn’t pay. (Davis eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, which was expunged from his record after five years, said a spokeswoman for The Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit that provides legal defense services.)

“I spent three days in jail before returning to my team. If I had not been a scholarship student, and had my coaches not posted my $10,000 bail, money my family did not have, I could have spent months to a year in jail waiting on a trial date,” Davis wrote. “This is just one of the problems in our criminal justice system.”

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