Re­form­ing Bail Re­form

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - John Gray John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Chan­nel 10. His col­umn is pub­lished ev­ery Wed­nes­day. Email him at [email protected]

A few years ago I was watch­ing a video of smart peo­ple do­ing dumb things.

A man was up on a tall lad­der in a tree clear­ing out branches with a chain­saw. He’d reach out with the saw, touch the branch and “whoosh” it would drop to the ground below. The man was a whiz with that chain­saw and in no time he was rid­ding the area of all the un­wanted tree limbs.

The prob­lem was he was so fo­cused on cut­ting the branches quickly; he wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to the big­ger pic­ture. Can you guess what hap­pened next?

Yep, he only had one branch left to cut so with­out hes­i­ta­tion he reached out with the saw and cut through it like a hot knife through but­ter. It was just then he re­al­ized it was the very limb his lad­der was lean­ing on for sup­port and as the branch came crash­ing down to the ground, so too did the lad­der and the ge­nius hold­ing the saw.

Some­how he didn’t break his back when he hit the dirt and the, still-run­ning, chain­saw fell mer­ci­fully just to his side and didn’t take off any hu­man limbs.

I thought of our friend on the lad­der this week as I watched the gov­er­nor and state law­mak­ers scram­bling to ex­plain the new bail re­form law and why so many peo­ple ar­rested for hurt­ing oth­ers were set free only hours af­ter be­ing ar­rested. I have no doubt all those in fa­vor of the re­form had the best in­ten­tions when they crafted the law but they were in such a hurry to push it through last year, they didn’t re­al­ize they’d be chop­ping off their own limb.

And now, like that man on the lad­der, they are look­ing for a soft land­ing that al­lows them to fix the law be­fore a very bad per­son walks out of jail and kills some­one. Which, let’s be hon­est, seems about as likely as the sunrise in a state of 20 mil­lion peo­ple.

When I write th­ese col­umns I try to avoid the low hang­ing fruit, so say­ing that blan­ket bail re­form was a mis­guided idea seems a bit like pil­ing on at this point. When I see news­pa­pers all over the state, some very much left of cen­ter, say­ing this re­form is dan­ger­ous then you know some­thing is se­ri­ously wrong with it.

Democrats don’t usu­ally go against the gov­er­nor, at least in pub­lic, but many are and they want the law changed.

The break­ing point for the Cap­i­tal Re­gion I think was the man re­leased this week af­ter be­ing ar­rested in the death of an in­fant. This came only hours af­ter a dif­fer­ent guy was set free af­ter be­ing ar­rested for chok­ing a woman and vi­o­lat­ing an or­der of pro­tec­tion. You’d think when they wrote this law around a con­fer­ence ta­ble last year some­one would have raised their hand and said, “But if you choke women or kill ba­bies, in that case, you can still get bail set, right?”

The gov­er­nor said ear­lier this week that there were some un­ex­pected con­se­quences play­ing out. That’s funny be­cause for months I’ve heard law en­force­ment types telling those of us in the me­dia that this was ex­actly what was go­ing to hap­pen; vi­o­lent peo­ple get­ting re­leased and vic­tims liv­ing in fear

I agree it’s un­fair that some­one sit in jail for months be­cause they are poor and their fam­ily can’t pull to­gether fivet­hou­sand bucks to get them out as they await trial. The prob­lem is, as is of­ten the case with laws, they are so broadly writ­ten they take a chain­saw to a prob­lem when a scalpel is what’s needed.

I’m also not a fan of tak­ing all de­ci­sion mak­ing out of the hands of judges. We have some pretty smart judges all over this fine state and I’d like them to be able to look at each case and say, “I know what the law says but I have veto power here and this guy needs to be locked up or at least have very high bail set.”

I also ap­plaud the law’s ef­fort to speed up what’s known as “dis­cov­ery” so de­fense lawyers have a fight­ing chance to see all the ev­i­dence. How­ever, with such a back­log of cases, I worry the dead­lines are now too tight and we’ll see dan­ger­ous peo­ple re­leased and charges later dis­missed be­cause an over­worked As­sis­tant D.A. couldn’t get the lab re­sults back in two weeks.

I also worry that bad peo­ple who get caught will be re­leased with­out bail, hop in a car and drive west un­til they hit the ocean. Then when they are stopped a year from now for speed­ing in San Diego and the com­puter tells the of­fi­cer this per­son is wanted in Sco­tia, New York for chok­ing a woman, no one here will bother driv­ing 3,000 miles to go get them. The nice thing about bail is it was an in­cen­tive to show up for your court date or some­one was go­ing to lose a lot of money. Now, there’s zero in­cen­tive if you’re guilty.

They say the road to hell is paved with good in­ten­tions. Let’s fix the law and avoid hell al­to­gether shall we.

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