What do the new criminal justice laws mean for law-abiding New Yorkers?
In July and August of this year, the New York State Police confiscated almost 350 pounds of marijuana in two major busts on the Northway, arrested the alleged traffickers and held bail hearings for all four defendants.
However, when sweeping bail “reforms” passed in the state budget go into effect in January 2020, it will be a very, very different process. Following a stop of this kind, defendants will likely receive nothing more than an appearance ticket because the crime committed is classified as “non-violent.” Zero bail needed, zero accountability for their actions.
Manslaughter in the second degree, making a terrorist threat, promoting a sexual performance by a child, torturing animals; these are just a few of many criminal offenses that will not be eligible for cash bail and will be released until trial under new regulations.
Obviously, in the case of drug traffickers passing through our upstate communities between Canada and New York City, the genuine concern is that these individuals will be released, flee the area, never appear on their court date and likely re-offend. Therefore, by adopting these changes we are weakening penalties and putting the general public at risk.
These changes in the law, derisively referred to as “catch and release,” take away the discretion of judges to factor public safety into any decision they are making.
As a further example of all that is wrong with the legislative process in Albany, these sweeping changes were passed in the middle of the night as part of the budget, leaving inadequate time to thoughtfully consider unintended consequences of the changes, or the input of district attorneys, law enforcement and the judiciary. At the end of this year’s legislative session, the District Attorneys Association, law enforcement, my colleagues and I pleaded for amendments to these sweeping reforms and highlighted our legitimate concerns.
As January quickly approaches, I stand by those concerns. We must halt the implementation of these changes and work with seasoned professionals who can help us make reforms without jeopardizing the safety of New York residents.
Also, the changes in the law do not appear to have considered increased administrative costs. After the defendant is released with an appearance ticket, the judge or court clerk must notify the defendant in advance of all appearances by text, phone call, email or regular mail. If the defendant is a no-show, the judge must provide 48-hours notice that the defendant must appear.
This is no small task in a busy court like Clifton Park, Saratoga Springs, or Halfmoon — and no easy task in rural areas where a part-time local judge may or may not have even a part-time clerk. Undoubtedly, court personnel will need to be added and additional costs incurred in what I believe is babysitting and coddling a defendant.
In addition to tasking law enforcement with chasing after “non-violent” offenders who do not appear in court, the state will also be implementing discovery reform and speedy trial practices, among several others. According to law enforcement and district attorneys across the state, these changes will require extra manpower and funding for counties and municipalities to properly execute while also completing day-to-day patrolling and tasks.
I understand the backlog and systemic issues that result from New York City and the larger downstate municipalities, but the reality is that upstate does not face problems of the same magnitude. We should not be taking a one-size-fits-all approach to a solution that was designed to primarily benefit the downstate criminal justice system, which was plagued by unreasonably long pre-trial detention.
Instead, we should be moving forward with initiatives that are cautiously and thoughtfully drafted with the best interests of our communities, friends and family in mind.
In the upcoming legislative session, I will continue to speak out against any initiatives that remove discretion from our judiciary and threaten our public safety, and will work alongside my colleagues to delay the implementation or amend these misguided “reforms.”
Assemblywoman Walsh represents the 112th Assembly District, which consists of parts of Saratoga and Schenectady counties. For more information, please visit Assemblywoman Walsh’s Official Website.
Mary Beth Walsh