New York state’s criminal justice reforms are so fraught with unintended consequences and second-guessing that the State Legislature has little choice but to, well, reform the botched reforms.
Anecdotal stories of accused wrongdoers being loosed into the streets because judges have little or no discretion on setting bail on numerous charges are piling up — and we’re just into the first week into the formal adoption of the new system.
Even in New York City, the heart of where the sentiment to reform bail and criminal discovery procedures came from, officials are realizing the mistake of rushed, politically pandering legislation. As the recent rash of anti-Semitic attacks revealed, prosecutors can’t ask for bail on assault — even related to a hate crime — unless it causes “lasting physical injury.” As a result, after being arrested for punching three Jewish women, an assault suspect was released. She promptly allegedly hit another woman, got arrested and was released again.
Only after a third arrest within a week was she held — for mental evaluation.
On Christmas Eve, a hit-and-run defendant allegedly struck and killed a Rockland County mother of three and fled the scene. As an undocumented immigrant, the defendant shoud certainly be considered a flight risk, but since vehicular manslaughter isn’t on the bail/remand list, the defendant was released on his own recognizance.
Other crimes not on the list allowing for bail/remand include major drug dealing, sexual offenses, stalking and incidents of theft even involving thousands of dollars worth of property.
In Olean, Police Chief Jeff Rowley noted that one individual has been arrested several times for felony charges — and released each time just to be arrested a day or two later.
In Chautauqua County last month, the owner of a former restaurant, accused of burning the business down in a felony arson case, walked out of a local courtroom with no bail.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and supporting lawmakers rammed the reforms through in the state’s budget with little or no attention paid to what effect they might actually have on communities with regard to public safety and security.
When the full measure of the reforms were made public, opposing lawmakers, police chiefs, county sheriffs and district attorneys warned of the potential chaos. But as Chief Rowley indicated last month, the public was going to have to see with its own collective eyes some results of the reforms before the realization of what they really mean hit home.
That realization is hitting home now.
The intentions in rewriting the state’s bail laws last year were in many ways commendable. Economic status shouldn’t necessarily dictate whether someone must stay behind bars pending trial. However, the decision to specify a limited number of offenses in which judges can set bail or remand — and require pretrial release for all other offenses, with no judicial discretion on defendant flight risk or potential danger to the community — was foolish.
Begin the process of reforming the reforms. Today.