Franklin County DA: Bail reform problems appearing as expected

Craig Carreiro (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

MALONE — Franklin County District Attorney Craig Carriero said the newly enacted bail reform law is doing just want he thought it would do.

“I guess with respect to the bail, I think it is as we warned everyone, it was not us fear mongering everyone,” Carriero told members of the Franklin County Legislature on Thursday in an update on the law and what has been happening to people who break the law.

“One of the individuals that we released on January 1st was being held on burglary and theft charges,” said Carriero. “It is not surprisingly that he is the suspect in a home invasion in our jurisdiction and we believe he has fled to a different jurisdiction and we are trying to track him down,”

The bail reform law took effect Jan. 1. Under the law, judges cannot set bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony crimes.

Carriero talked about a call he got from a person who had a car stolen from near their barn. The caller asked him why bail was not set.

“They were wondering what we were doing. This lady was wondering why we released him and I wrote back that we did not want to release him, we had to release him and now we do not know where he is,” said Carriero. “We believe he is on the other side of the Canadian border.” The inability of judges to set bail is not only a frustration for the district attorney’s office. The new law is causing some witnesses not to cooperate, Carriero said.

“She said, ‘Why would I give you guys a statement if all he is going to do is get released and come back here,'” said Carriero.

Carriero says he would like to see the law changed to give judges more discretion to review the crimes on a case-by-case basis.

“You know the guy who steals a 12-pack at Stewart’s? Is he a danger to the community? No,” Carriero said. “Does he need to be in jail? No, but someone who breaks into someone’s home and is automatically released, that is a dangerous person.”

Under the bail reform law, district attorneys are also required to turn over all discovery material — evidence the prosecution has uncovered related to the offense — as well as the names and contact information of witnesses within 15 days of the suspect’s arraignment.

Carriero said some attorneys are taking advantage of the system.

“I have never once seen any (radio logs) used at trial. We have never dealt with them before and now there are motions being filed saying, ‘Oh, we did not get that radio log on the case within 15 days and so the whole case should be dismissed,'” said Carriero. “So that is what we are facing.”

Recently, County Judge Robert J. Main Jr. rejected an attempt by Public Defender Thomas Soucia to have a case thrown out because radio logs were not provided to his office within the 15-day time limit.

Soucia had argued that a felony charge of first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle filed in April against Orpheus Nelson of Brooklyn should be dismissed because the DA’s office had failed to turn over State Police radio logs within the 15-day period and had told the court they were ready for trial, when they were in fact not because they had failed to meet the discovery deadline.

Carriero argued that he had notified the defense that the information had not been forthcoming from troopers and that he was entitled to an automatic extension of the deadline because he had made a good faith effort to obtain the material. He also said the certification of readiness for trial does not require that all discovery materials be presented to the defense.

Main acknowledged that Soucia’s “argument is not completely unreasonable” but rejected the defense effort to have the charges thrown out and ordered the two sides to “confer diligently to attempt to reach an accommodation as to any dispute concerning discovery.” If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, either could mount an additional legal challenge, Main wrote in his Feb. 10 decision.

Main also extended Carriero’s deadline to comply with the discovery requirements to Feb. 28.

Meeting the deadline is not the only discovery-related issue the prosecution is encountering, Carriero said.

He said he is also facing some pushback from those who respond to crime scenes and resistance to all the information they need to provide.

“We had questions from the EMTs and other people who are just trying to help the community, saying, ‘Well, why do you need my contact information and date of birth?'” said Carriero.

In 2019 Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature passed the bail reform law as part of a budget amendment. Carriero said that for him, making changes to the law is not about politics but a matter of public safety.

“There has to be some discretion,” said Carriero. “If they are a danger to the community, we have to have the ability to argue that they should be held.”