Will bail reform hurt New York's justice system?

Published: Nov. 26, 2019 at 5:34 PM EST
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Come Jan. 1, New York will see major changes in the criminal justice system. New bail reform and discovery provisions will give defendants more rights. But the changes could put the pinch on local law enforcement and potentially put public safety at risk.

Our Kelly O'Brien was there as North Country DAs and police voiced concerns.

The public safety departments say they are not against the reforms aimed at protecting the poorest defendants, but they say they simply can't do what the state is asking of them by Jan. 1. Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie says the workload will go up by 95% and that no new state dollars are coming with these changes, meaning local taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

"What we're here to do is ask the governor to hit the pause button," Wylie said.

District attorneys and public safety personnel from the North Country are asking for a one-year moratorium regarding New York's bail and discovery reform.

"It has to be commonsense reform and, right now, this does not look like commonsense reform," Franklin County District Attorney Craig Carriero said.

"We cannot comply with the law as it stands right now," Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague said.

The new discovery provisions give the defense the right to tour crime scenes and give prosecutors just 15 days to hand over their files to the defense. That means evidence like witnesses, 911 calls, police body camera footage and other evidence in the case. It applies to every case from traffic tickets to murder. If prosecutors don't comply, the case gets tossed.

"When a case gets dismissed or can't proceed because we don't have the resources or the funding, it's not our fault," Sprague said.

As for the bail reform provisions, judges will no longer have discretion in considering the strength of the people's case when setting bail. Anyone who is not considered a risk to flee or who is not charged with the most serious violent crimes will be set free pending trial without cash bail.

"No one here believes that a criminal defendant should be held in jail just because they lack financial resources," Wylie said.

But the district attorneys say the bail reforms go too far, including charges like burglary and manslaughter.

"I ask you, how safe will you feel in your home that night?" Sprague said.

Anyone currently in jail awaiting trial facing the no bail charges will be released to go back home starting Jan. 1.

At the time of arrest, the defendant will receive an appearance ticket and be sent back home until their court hearing.

"Based on my experience with a lot of these individuals that have no connection whatsoever to the county in which they committed the crime, they're not coming back. Their approach is going to be, 'Come and get me,'" Carriero said.

Again, agencies across the state are asking the governor to give more time before starting this. They want to give their input so this doesn't put stress on the different departments.

Assemblyman Dan Stec says it is highly unlikely we will see any changes before spring unless lawmakers are called in for an emergency session.