New York State Budget includes changes to last year’s controversial bail reform law

Albany. Some serious crimes will again be eligible for bail.

Albany /
| 14 Apr 2020 | 02:02

    New York State lawmakers recently put together the State budget and it includes changes to the controversial bail reform laws, which as of Jan. 1, provided that pretrial detention and cash bail would no longer be an option for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

    Last April, those changes, proposed by Governor Cuomo, supported by the New York Civil Liberties Union and enacted by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly may have been well-intentioned.

    But at that time Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton, for example, 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.

    Orange county officials who opposed the legislation included County Executive Steve Neuhaus, District Attorney David Hoovler and Sheriff Carl DuBois.

    They all agreed that the bail reform law, which included taking away the Judges authority or discretion to arraign defendants and only issuing appearance tickets for serious offenses, would make the community less safe.

    The coronavirus epidemic and the resulting decrease in opportunities for criminals may have temporarily changed some predictions. But earlier this year police officials throughout the County agreed that too many repeat offenders were being let back out onto the streets, and that as a result crime would be on the rise.

    Although proposed changes to those rules would have empowered judges to hold more defendants pretrial if the judge believes the accused could be a danger, bail reform advocates feared that judges might send more people to jail. That, they argued, would defeat the purpose of the 2019 bail reforms and increase the accused person’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 during the epidemic.

    And they prevailed. But the Legislature then added a number of crimes that will be re-eligible for bail. They include burglary in the second degree, promoting child pornography, and vehicular manslaughter. The changes also gave prosecutors 20 to 35 days for serious crimes, instead of the bail reform law’s 15 days, to submit documentation to the District Attorney and the Defense. It also provides $40 million to help district attorneys and others to modernize their computer systems and hire staff to be able to meet those requirements.

    “The criminal justice reforms passed last year were intended to ensure public safety and fairness, but the reforms contained some inconsistencies, and I fully support the new amendments to address them,” said New York State Senator Jen Metzger. ”The original reforms drew a line between violent and non-violent offenses, but some charges that are legally classified as non-violent are acts that most people consider violent. This inconsistency is addressed in the new law, and judges can now set bail or remand for charges like second-degree burglary, or any act that results in loss of life, even if caused by negligence rather than intent.”

    Some lawmakers, however, believe the changes are insufficient.

    “By now,” said New York State Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, “we are all aware of the detrimental 2019 bail reform law. The budget includes adjustments that are a step in the right direction, but, unfortunately, do not go far enough. Judges are still not given full discretion in holding offenders that have priors or ones who are generally dangerous to society. The damage of this law cannot be reversed and rather than grouping it into the budget, these adjustments should have been profiled in a stand-alone bill.”

    Offenses that now qualify for bail
    · Class A-I felony drug offenses;
    · Sex trafficking;
    · Money laundering in support of terrorism in the 3rd and 4th degree;
    · Promoting an obscene sexual performance of a child;
    · Promoting a sexual performance of a child;
    · Any crime that is alleged to cause the death of another person;
    · Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, Strangulation in the 2nd degree, or Unlawful imprisonment 1st where committed against a member of the same family or household;
    · Aggravated vehicular assault in the 1st degree;
    · Vehicular assault in the 1st degree;
    · Assault in the 3rd degree or Arson in the 3rd degree when charged as a hate crime;
    · Aggravated assault upon a person less than eleven years old;
    · Criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds;
    · Grand larceny in the 1st degree;
    · Enterprise corruption;
    · Money laundering in the 1st degree;
    · Failure to register as a sex offender or Endangering the welfare of a child where the defendant is registered as a level three sex offender; and
    · Bail jumping or Escape from custody.