ALBANY — District attorneys in Greene and Columbia counties are speaking out as state Senate Democrats came forward this week with proposed modifications to the contested bail reform law.

The proposal includes eliminating cash bail entirely and restoring limited discretion to judges. Nearly all misdemeanors will not be eligible for judicial discretion, and therefore remand, according to the Senate Majority office.

Exceptions include crimes that result in the death of another person, certain domestic violence felonies and certain hate crimes.

Judges could also take into account a person’s past criminal record when determining whether to remand a defendant, according to the Senate Majority office.

“We are getting rid of cash bail completely,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Friday. “Simply put, the reforms will ensure that no one will be incarcerated simply because of their inability to pay and that no one will be let out of prison because of their enormous wealth."

Defendants would be given a hearing within 48 hours of their arraignment to determine whether they will be released or remanded, according to the proposal.

If a defendant is remanded, they can request a second hearing.

“All of those proposals would improve the law,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said Friday.

The discovery law, which requires all evidence be turned over to the defense within 15 days, has been extremely difficult for his office, Czajka said.

“It has been a substantial burden on my office, as well as all the police agencies in the county,” he said. “We are working as best we can to comply.”

To date, no cases have been dismissed due to the new law, Czajka said.

“I anticipate issues will arise and have arisen due to the law and will result and have resulted in requests to dismiss cases,” he said.

One of the issues with the new law is that witnesses can end up in the crosshairs, Czajka said.

“One of the most difficult jobs I’ve had over the years is to assure victims and witnesses that their identities and locations will be kept secret, at least until the trial,” he said. “I can no longer make that promise. As a result, I am very concerned that witnesses to crimes will no longer come forward, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute certain crimes.”

The proposed modifications are a step in the right direction, Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said Friday.

“It doesn’t go far enough but it’s better than what we have,” he said.

A key part of the proposal is to restore discretion to judges, Stanzione said.

“Judges should have discretion over who goes to jail,” he said. “Upstate judges are very keen on that and are very fair. Most of the problems with bail were reflected downstate.”

The modifications would allow a judge to take into consideration the community’s safety, which is a key element, Stanzione said.

Greene County Sheriff Peter Kusminsky agreed.

“Judges need to be able to consider the possibility that the accused is a flight risk, if they are likely to be a serial offender or a danger to society,” he said.

Both bail reform and the changes to discovery have “bogged down” his office, Stanzione said.

One defendant was arrested in Durham for seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and released, then arrested in Cairo for petty larceny and released, then arrested for petty larceny in Catskill and released, then arrested for grand larceny when he stole a vehicle and released, and finally was arrested on a warrant when he did not appear at any of his court dates, Stanzione said.

The defendant did not show up for his subsequent court date, he added.

“The 15 days is turning us all into clerks instead of attorneys,” Stanzione said. “That time period needs to be extended: No less than 45 days. We have not had any cases dismissed because of the new law but we have a lot more work to do.“

No funding was established to increase staff, Stanzione said.

The Senate Majority’s proposal includes a request for funding for pre-trial service agencies to assist with the implementation of the discovery laws.

The proposal also indicates that the discovery deadline would be extended but does not indicate by how much. Greater protection would be given to witnesses to ensure the anonymity of 911 callers, according to the Senate Majority’s office.

It was not immediately known when state lawmakers will vote on the proposed modifications.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

(4) comments

zoewyse

I am so glad that people are working to further examine New York's version of bail reform to see whether there are changes that can create a more just system and also ensure that the public is as safe as possible. I hope that people from all perspectives can respectfully work together using evidence and data as a guide.

There has been far too much use of specific sensational anecdotes to oppose bail reform, and those who have fought hard for it have rightly noted that major policy decisions cannot be made based solely on isolated anecdotes. They do shake things up in the same way that National Enquirer articles about "ten armed octopus gives birth to baby alien" and "flying monkeys of doom destroy small village" shake things up. They are more exciting than peer reviewed journal articles that say things like "in spite of a few anecdotes, we've done a lot of rigorous research and we can't prove anything. We'll tell you all about it in 10 pages of dense, endlessly caveated text." Ultimately, however, actual data and evidence are far more helpful.

That said, these anecdotes do provide a reason to pause and evaluate whether things are working. They are extremely troubling and suggest that some at least minor changes are probably needed. People who are raising concerns should not be accused of "fear mongering." Whether people agree or not, it is not right to question people's intentions without evidence that people's intentions truly are bad. The views of a small minority of proponents of bail reform can sometimes take the tone of "you guys disagree with us, so clearly you're all evil." This is a democracy. People are allowed to disagree. That does not mean they are an agent of the dark side.

In general, there are ideas being raised in the larger discussion of criminal justice system reform that seem to believe that violence in general does not exist, or if it does, that it is not really all that scary. A small minority of people with incredibly caring hearts advocate for things like "prison abolition" and talk about "imagined fears" of violence. I deeply respect the compassion that guides these views. As a teenager, I read Harry Potter waiting for the moment when Voldemort would reform. When I hear these ideas being advocated passionately by mature, caring, intelligent people I hear the echoes the thoughts of my own misspent youth. So when I say this, it is with love: These ideas are irresponsible and dangerous. They are disrespectful to the officers who risk and sometimes give their lives to keep our communities safe. They are a waste of everyone's time.

It is not constructive for us to debate whether Ted Bundy is really a good person, whether the Unabomber should come to a community near us, or whether El Chapo really needs to be in prison. There is far too much that reasonable people can actually agree on.

Criminal justice system reform absolutely should include people who have committed acts that are violent. There are many people who are no longer the same people they were when they committed those actions and there are also many who have been wrongfully convicted.

I have never been the victim of violence as an adult, but I have known enough people who have that I believe we all need to take real public safety issues seriously. I also vividly remember waking up to the sound of my upstairs neighbor hitting someone over and over. The officers who responded to the call were polite and respectful. When they knocked on my neighbor's door, the response did little to allay anyone's fears. They did not open the door and say "Oh no, officer, nothing is wrong here. We were just hanging up paintings. And contrary to all appearances, we aren't very strong. So when we hang up paintings, we hit the nails as hard as we possibly can, like maybe 12 times. And unlike most people, we don't do that during the day. We do it at 2:00 in the morning. And these ladies? Here for a slumber party. Of course they aren't trafficking victims."

Instead they did what any intelligent person with a modicum of common sense would do. They employed their legal right to simply not open their door. After several months of painstaking police investigations, my less well adjusted neighbors (who were also members of the Gangsters Disciples) were arrested and taken into custody. Violence is real. We don't need to imagine it.

I have so much respect for the police who serve our communities. I believe the need for bail reform and a great deal more criminal justice reform is desperately needed. Mass incarceration in our country is wrong and it has its basis in a great deal of racism. But we also need to respect one another and work together. We can disagree on ideas without questioning one another's motives. Anecdotes should awaken us to other ways of seeing things, but objective, systematic data must guide policy. I hope so much that people of good will can work together continue this movement to create a more just society (but one that is also safe).

waysher

The proposed amendments to the law seem reasonable and also appear to go further to address the the major reason for the reform in the first place, to level the playing field between people who do not have the resources to post bail, and those who do. It makes criminal justice more economically just, since cash bail is eliminated. the proposals also seem reasonable in the vital areas of public safety, by giving judges more leeway to remand an accused when their is evidence that he or she may pose a real threat to public safety. Although the proposal does not address in detail the 15-day revelation period and the early disclosure of witnesses, they are pointed to as problem areas. Indeed, they can be, especially in the areas of witness intimidation. I hope the public can see more of the Democratic plan for revision in these areas soon as well.

scottmyers

It’s done... Perhaps we’ll begin to use the constitution, which btw prohibits unreasonable bail. I was held by Greene County for over 260 days because I didn’t have $250. I removed Sheriff Hussey, Sheriff Seeley, Judges Pulver, Simon and Pazen, and won reversals on all of my “convictions” and sued in time to be compensated. Closed the jail. Now I’m in a position to demand the Sheriff’s Office be repaired ($3.8 million), put the sheriff back there (consistent with County Law § 216), keep a few holding cells, share the jails in the adjoining counties (which are each over half empty), and convert the new jail being built into a legitimate treatment/medical center (eligible for state and federal funds, a jail is not, and doesn’t have “programs”).

Thanks The Daily Mail

scottmyers

Greene County’s notorious for “detaining” people local law enforcement simply disagrees with. Local judges like Pazen, Wooten, Simon and Kennedy are corrupt, so was Pulver. I removed these and all others in my path to achieve safety here after 9/11. I’m a direct target, and an example why this must stop!

A regional court system is coming, removing most politics and professionalizing courts with actual lawyers not tied to a political party. That’s long over due.

Realize the Alternatives To Incarceration Committee (“ATI”) met weekly for 20 weeks, and were ignored by Greene County.

Removing bail is the first step towards treating our neighbors intelligently, lawfully.

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