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Queens Chronicle

Criminal justice laws soon to arrive

Debate over Jan. 1 bail, discovery and speedy trial reforms continue

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Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2019 10:30 am

The sweeping bail and discovery criminal justice reform laws are less than a month away from being enacted, but the debate over their impact continues.

Acting Queens County District Attorney John Ryan opposes the laws, while DA-elect Melinda Katz, who will take office Jan. 1, the same day they will be implemented, supports them.

“This law will strip from judges their discretion to set bail for hundreds of crimes, including the violent felony of a residential burglary,” Ryan argued in a recent statement. “In perhaps the ultimate irony, a judge will not be able to set bail for a person charged with bail jumping.”

“We do not and will not have to sacrifice safety for justice,” Katz said in response to Ryan’s statement “We will get rid of cash bail, and will continue to keep Queens safe. On January 1st, we will build trust across all aspects of the justice system and with the general public that we can respect everyone’s civil rights and protect our communities, because we deserve nothing less.”

The reforms were passed in April by a newly Democratic state Legislature. The changes in law will eliminate cash bail for low-level offenses, such as misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and require prosecutors to disclose evidence to the defense earlier in the case proceedings. According to the Center for Court Innovation, the changes in law aim to shrink case proceeding times, resulting in shorter jail stays for defendants held in pretrial detention and potentially reducing the total amount of jail sentences.

The reforms will, however, abolish cash bail for at least 36 offenses that have raised concerns from community members and law enforcement officials. Those against the reforms argue that a number of the offenses should not be considered low-level, such as aggravated assault upon a person less than 11 years old, criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, manslaughter in the second degree, promoting a sexual performance by a child and stalking in the second degree.

“The Legislature could’ve created categories of crimes where release was presumptive, but still left judges with their sound discretion to set bail where they felt it appropriate,” continued Ryan. “The Legislature could’ve let judges consider the danger to the community in setting bail. They could’ve done that, but they didn’t.”

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, which encompasses all 62 state DA offices, including the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs and the Office of the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor, worry that DA offices will be underfunded in the wake of the reforms and unable to adequately adhere to the changes.

“I urge the Governor and our legislative leaders to listen to the collective perspective of our State’s law enforcement experts,” said DAASNY President and DA of Orange County David Hoovler. “We must continue to prioritize the victims and witnesses of our state who are the most vulnerable residents of our State and are at the heart of the criminal justice system.”

In a letter to Gov. Cuomo on DAASNY budget priorities for the upcoming year, Hoovler requested increased funding for law enforcement officials across the state in order to implement the new bail, discovery and speedy trial laws. The DAASNY did not request a specific number, but noted that it would be put toward computer systems used to facilitate electronic discovery and pretrial services that encourage court date appearances such as referrals for housing, job training and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Those who support the laws look toward the progress of New Jersey, which had enacted similar laws in 2017. Since the introduction of the reforms, the neighboring state has not reported serious issues or spikes in crime.

“This is by no means revolutionary,” said CUNY School of Law Professor Steve Zeidman, an expert on criminal justice. “Other states have much more liberal discovery and approaches to bail and their system isn’t collapsing. Crime is not running rampant.

“I don’t see these bills as progressive reforms, but rather more in the nature of correctives. Bail and discovery should always have been handled in the manner the bills prescribe,” said Zeidman, who believes that due process was barely made available to defendants accused of crimes. The expert also believes that the only reason law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are rejecting the reforms is because they will take away a portion of their power.

“Change is hard. This is a baby step,” said Zeidman. “Their objections are run-of-the-mill fear mongering that have no basis in data and facts.”

Proponents of the reforms say the current bail and discovery laws are racially and economically skewed; lower economic classes, largely consisting of minorities, could not afford bail and were forced to sit in jail over misdemeanor crimes. The reforms aim to correct the flaw and level bail standards for all economic classes.

“Our current laws criminalize New Yorkers who cannot afford to buy their own freedom and erode the accused’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney of the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society, told the Chronicle in an emailed response to a question. “Data from non-profit bail funds and supervised release programs prove that people who are released return to court. Public safety is not jeopardized and crime continues to be at historic lows, per the City’s own numbers.”

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1 comment:

  • Linnster posted at 12:04 pm on Fri, Dec 6, 2019.

    Linnster Posts: 10

    I don't consider aggravated assault upon a person less than 11 years old, criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, manslaughter in the second degree, promoting a sexual performance by a child and stalking in the second degree to be "low-level" offenses. I'm all for speedy trial, but the idea that anyone who has committed any of these offenses can be out on the street to commit another crime because he has no skin in the game (bail), is a ridiculous idea.