What do the new crim­i­nal jus­tice laws mean for law-abid­ing New York­ers?

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - OPINION - By As­sem­bly­woman Mary Beth Walsh

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

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