The state of New York recently passed criminal justice reforms that are slated to take effect on January 1, 2020. Among the reforms passed, one would remove bail requirements for all but serious offenses, replacing them with appearance tickets akin to a traffic violation citation. The law will also change the discovery phase of any arrests and prosecutions.
However, law enforcement officials throughout the state have expressed serious concerns over the law and its subsequent effect on law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
According to WHAM-13 in New York, at a meeting of law enforcement officials in the Rochester area, Monroe County District Attorney Perry Duckles expressed his concerns.
“The 2019 criminal justice reforms will significantly alter the procedural landscape of prosecutors’ offices, impact the fiscal operations of county and alter law enforcement practices at every level,” he said.
Numerous law enforcement leaders at the meeting called for the implementation date to be pushed back until all stakeholders have input on the changes. One of the complaints cited by law enforcement officials was that they had no input whatsoever into the law.
“Sheriffs and police chiefs would have gladly worked with our legislature and our governor to develop common sense, humane reform regarding bail,” Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts stated.
He said they were never given a voice.
“But we were never given the opportunity or chance. The result is a devastating tip of the scales in favor of defendants accused of incredibly serious crimes.”
Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said that law enforcement personnel were not asking to throw the entire law “out the window.” Rather:
“What is being suggested is to have applicable dialogue concerning portions of the legislation that will impact New York’s criminal justice system.”
Others stated their belief that the law places inmates at risk, especially those fighting opioid addictions. Monroe County Undersheriff Korey Brown said:
“We are losing our ability to take someone from the thralls of addiction and provide a safe place and opportunity for recovery when they’re not ready.”
Some, including Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul downplayed concerns.
“We want people who should be kept behind bars kept behind bars, and they will be. But we’re talking about the individuals, two individuals accused of the same crime—one’s rich, one’s poor. One goes back to school, one goes back to college—the other one sits in jail unable to be productive. That’s the unfairness we’re trying to fight.”
However some legislators, such as Senator Pam Helming are concerned.
“I’ve read social media posts, I’ve read editorials in newspapers who believe the new reforms are not that bad, because they only apply to non-serious crimes,” she said.
She issues a challenge.
“I challenge anyone who has this view to look at this list of crimes, to read the legislation and tell me that you believe manslaughter, aggravated vehicular homicide and rape in the third degree are minor offenses.
Tell me, how is promoting obscene sexual performances by a child a minor offense? How is that?
How about arson in the third and fourth degrees, selling controlled substances near our schools? Making terrorist threats or committing burglary and robbery in the second degree?”
She argued that the reforms were rushed through the State Legislature without the input of law enforcement agencies. Waterloo Police Chief Jason Godley argued the new laws would cause harm to crime victims.
“This is a reform—we use that term loosely here today, reform—we use this as a way to shift everything from the victims we’ve tried to protect over the years to the criminals. It’s not fair to the victims.”
Other criminal justice agencies are also concerned that the new law is unworkable.
The Monroe County Crime Lab processes evidence for law enforcement agencies in that county plus six others. Under the new law, prosecutors are required to turn over all evidence in a case within 15 days of an arrest—including DNA evidence.
Some tests, such as ballistics from a firearm are fairly easy to complete with in the 15 day timeframe. Matches can be made fairly quickly. Other tests however are much more complicated.
Laboratory director John Clark said that:
“Complicated tests, like DNA or drug tests, that’s not going to happen within that five day notice. He said that prosecutors typically give five days for discovery evidence to be turned back over.”
Under the new law, the 15-day period starts at the defendant’s first court appearance, or arraignment. All evidence recovered by law enforcement, plus anything such as body camera footage, surveillance videos, 911 recordings and a list of victims and witnesses must be provided to defense attorneys.
The law does provide for a judge to extend the window for turning over of evidence for 30-60 days. Any evidence that doesn’t comply with the deadline is inadmissible at trial. Lab tests can be critical in some cases and if this evidence is ruled inadmissible, it is possible if not probable that many guilty criminals will be released to commit other crimes.
The new law is fraught with problems which have been raised by local officials and law enforcement authorities.
One concern centers on the fact that victims and witnesses names and addresses must be released to criminal defendants. Such a requirement may mean that law enforcement agencies may need to provide protection for these people, since criminals may choose to intimidate or otherwise interfere with possible testimony.
Most other states that have eliminated cash bail have a provision that allows judges the authority to use public safety as a consideration before releasing a suspect back into the community. New Jersey, for example, added such a provision months after that state’s no-bail law went into effect.
As is typical for politicians who know little about law enforcement, no consideration was given to consult with either law enforcement professionals or the state’s district attorneys prior to implementing this law.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says that these reforms will pay for themselves by cutting jail costs.
We recently wrote about city and town officials who are concerned about the unfunded mandates placed upon them by state politicians. Cuomo doesn’t take into account that while the costs begin immediately, any “savings” would not be realized for years.
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Earlier this month, Cuomo refused to address the need for additional funding.
“I think they’ve gotten additional funding and they’re getting additional funding so no, I don’t think they need more funding,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo was referring to a new internet sales tax which will provide additional funds to local cities and towns.
District attorneys say that they don’t have sufficient funds to carry out the requirements mandated under the law. They are looking for the funds to hire extra staff and to fund upgraded technology.
“The governor’s unwillingness to appropriate funds for this unfunded mandate will only cause victims to be victimized again when prosecutors are unable to perform the basic functions of their offices,” said an angry David Hoovler.
He’s the president of the District Attorneys Association of New York. Hoovler’s organization believes the mandates will cost law enforcement agencies across New York $100 million or more.
While Hoovler is a Republican, anger over the law crosses party lines. Democratic Albany County DA David Soares slammed the inference from Division of Budget spokesman Freeman Klopott, who said that “hundreds of millions of dollars” that would be saved from reduced inmate populations could be redirected to the funds needed by the DA’s.
“That’s not how the justice system works,” Soares said. “That’s not how county budgets work. More importantly, that’s not how math works. Suggesting that counties will repurpose into criminal justice, those dollars saved by closing portions of its jail is a work of fiction.”
But as usual, politicians only care about political correctness, social justice and costs be damned. Somebody else will pay for it.