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DAs, police aren’t happy with bail elimination

ALBANY — New York prosecutors and police groups were left frustrated by a package of criminal justice measures tucked into the state budget, including one expected to end to cash bail for up to 90 percent of those charged with crimes.

The changes were championed by advocates of civil liberties and opponents of “mass incarceration,” with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and several influential Democratic lawmakers taking their side in the often heated debate.

Cuomo, in fact, said Tuesday he wants to see a complete end to the use of cash bail, arguing it has had a particularly harsh impact on poor people who have been charged with offenses but not convicted of a crime.

“I always argue for the perfect, and the perfect would’ve been the whole elimination of bail,” he told public radio host Brian Lehrer one day after the changes were enacted as part of the state’s $175.5 billion budget.

“But I don’t believe making the perfect the enemy of the good. This is the most historic criminal justice reform in modern history in the state.”

Will slow the wheels

The District Attorneys Association of New York State, however, accused lawmakers who drove through the changes of having “limited knowledge of the criminal justice system.”

Its president, Albany County DA David Soares, said the bail changes, along with others intended to accelerate the pace of criminal court proceedings, “will place unnecessary burdens on the workings of our criminal justice system and actually slow down the wheels of justice.”

The new law directs police officers to issue appearance tickets to offenders accused of less serious breaches of the law instead of taking them before a judge for immediate arraignment.

Judges would still be able to set bail for violent felonies, violating an order of protection, witness intimidation and several other serious crimes.

The legislation suggests that judges provide a justification for their bail decisions.

Potential problems

In Plattsburgh, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said he foresees “the potential for some problems” if a person who has just been arrested by police is released into the community without any requirement that she or he post bail.

“Is the level of crime they commit going to be elevated?” he asked. “That’s what remains to be seen.”

He said he is not expecting major impacts on the population of pre-trial detainees at Clinton County Jail, however, pointing out there is already a process involving his agency, the local probation department and the courts to try to have eligible defendants released and monitored in the community.

Wealth-based jailing

Progressive activists who promoted the updates to criminal justice laws say they will now advocate for an end to cash bail even in felony cases, contending the presumption of innocence extends to all defendants.

“As long as our neighbors are subject to wealth-based jailing, New Yorkers of faith and conscience will continue to organize and demand a complete end to money bail and stronger due process protections for all,” said the Rev. Emily McNeill, director of the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State.

A veteran criminal defense attorney who is now a mentor for the State Office of Indigent Legal Services, Terence Kindlon, predicted that there will be a “smooth transition” when the new bail law kicks in.

“The biggest problem is that a lot of the individuals who are part of the system are resistant to change,” Kindlon said. “It is more difficult to prosecute a person who is not in custody than a person who is in custody (because defendants in jail are prone to rush into plea deals).

“But I think that for the vast majority of cases, this is going to be a significant improvement.”

He also said the bail updates will help ease pressure on swamped public defender offices, which often have to deal with clamoring from family members to work harder to bring about the release from jail of their loved ones.

Altered plan

Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York Sheriffs Association, said his group had joined police chiefs and district attorneys in embracing the recommendations of the New York Justice Task Force, which promoted an end to cash bail in some cases but would have left judges with greater discretion than the measure embraced by lawmakers.

“What was enacted in the final budget was pretty far from what we were endorsing,” he said.

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