As of Jan. 1 in New York State, pretrial detention and cash bail will not be an option for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
The changes, proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, supported by the New York Civil Liberties Union and enacted by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly last April may have been well-intentioned.
"Everybody, including DAs and law enforcement, agrees that our bail system was fundamentally flawed and needed to be fixed” said State Sen. Jen Metzger, a Democrat who represents the 42nd District including much of Orange County and the Town of Warwick. “Our jails were full of people who had not been convicted, while others could buy their way out of jail before trial. The new legislation is intended to fix a clearly broken system and ensure that everybody is treated equally under the law. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect public safety, and I take the feedback I have heard from constituents and law enforcement very seriously. It's important to consider changes where needed, as it is with all new legislation."
Republican lawmakers, however, disagree.
In November Assemblyman Karl Brabenec (R,C,I, REF - Deerpark), joined by most members of the Assembly Republican Conference, introduced legislation which would repeal all enacted sections of the criminal justice reform package that was passed earlier that year.
“It is a total slap in the face to all law-abiding New Yorkers that felons will now be given priority over victims and the scales of justice have taken a nosedive toward leniency," said Brabenec, who represents the 98th District, which includes Warwick. "These misguided and dangerous reforms were lumped into the budget and passed in the middle of the night with little to no input from district attorneys, law enforcement officials and the courts. It turns our criminal justice system on its head and softens punishment so much that serial criminals will now be incentivized to reoffend.”
He explained that in addition, the new automatic discovery requirements will make prosecutors perform discovery obligations no later than 15 days after the defendant's arraignment. That would mean all items and information that relate to the subject matter of the case and are in the possession, custody, or control of the prosecution must be given to the defendant and their legal team.
Local costs: $300,000
Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton had reported that because of those requirements he had to appropriate more than $300,000 in his town’s 2020 budget for additional police expenses such as supervision and overtime.
“There was certainly an issue with long detentions for some who hadn’t the means to fund their bail but as is often the case politicians passed a wide ranging bill that has the potential to put our citizens at risk,” he said. “Giving judges no discretion on imposing bail will result in costs to local Municipalities as police resources have to be diverted to tracking down those who now will fail to return for their court dates. We have already seen offenders released who have committed another crime. Coupled with central arraignment outside of our town and the 15-day discovery requirement after arraignment all mean more financial burden on the local taxpayer. “
Warwick Police Chief Tom McGovern agrees.
“The new bail reforms are problematic for everyone in the criminal justice system and will create public safety issues across the state,” he said. “Innocent people will become victims and victims will be further impacted. Witnesses will have no incentive to testify when their names, addresses, etc. are released to the defendant as part of initial discovery. Defendants will receive appearance tickets for serious offenses and never return to court. Judges will have no authority or discretion to arraign defendants.”
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who also shares his opposition to the new rules with Sheriff Carl DuBois and District Attorney David Hoovler, echoed those same sentiments.
”The changes made to state law make our community less safe,” he said. “When you make wholesale changes to New York’s criminal justice laws, you are bound to have unintended consequences. We are already seeing that. In their effort to make New York more criminal friendly, New York’s legislators went too far.”