PLATTSBURGH — Tri-county area district attorneys, law enforcement officers and elected officials came together Tuesday to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to "hit the pause button" on criminal justice reforms set to take effect Jan. 1.
The reforms — enacted in the state's Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget — most notably make changes to the discovery process as well as how and when bail may be imposed.
During the press conference at the Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services auditorium, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said he does not believe anyone there is against bail or discovery reform.
"But it’s the manner in which the legislators and the governor enacted these reforms in an unjust, unfair and unfunded mandate that local law enforcement and professionals will have to deal with.”
The budget law eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, including second-degree manslaughter, which hits home for Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague.
"A year ago, my brother was shot and killed and had that individual been charged with manslaughter on the onset, he would have went home that night," she said.
"I can assure you, from the family members that were there that night and the community members that were there, I would have lost another family member. That’s scary.”
Franklin County District Attorney Craig Carriero brought up how certain offenses associated with domestic violence, such as third-degree assault and criminal obstruction of breathing, will also become "arrest and release" charges.
“I think everyone on this stage knows some of the most dangerous times for domestic violence victims are those moments after arrest," he said.
The reforms also require that prosecutors hand over all their evidence to the defense within 15 days of arraignment.
That goes for everything from traffic infractions to felonies.
Carriero added that the discovery process reforms also require that prosecutors provide reasonable contact information for everyone whose names appear in their files, and argued that defendants could use that information to harass witnesses into not testifying.
Malone Village Police Chief Christopher Premo said that the rule would make it harder to keep the identities of informants secret as well.
Sprague argued that the state should consider phasing in the reforms instead, and that they should not apply to traffic violations.
She also suggested extending the 15-day period to 45 days and that judges should be given discretion in determining bail.
Both Sprague and Carriero voiced opposition to how the reforms will allow defendants to apply to inspect a crime scene, which they pointed out could be a rape or burglary victim's own home.
"I think that provision is insane," Carriero said.
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro pointed out that with fewer inmates at the jail, there will be a need for fewer staff.
He said over the past year, jails in the three local counties have received state and federal funding to provide education programs, substance use prevention and analysis, and employment interviews to inmates.
“We’re spending all that money and now we’re not going to have that captive audience to be able to educate and be able to facilitate these programs."
Clinton County Director of Community Services Richelle Gregory spoke to how, for those struggling with their mental health or substance abuse, their time in jail can present a window of opportunity to start a path to recovery and treatment.
Plattsburgh City Police Chief Levi Ritter said his department has had to spend thousands of un-budgeted dollars on electronics in order to comply with the new legislation.
The reforms will require massive amounts of paperwork and the storage and security of electronic media.
“Having a police officer confined to a desk to meet the demand of an unfunded piece of legislation does not make a community safer and only exposes how (carelessly) this legislation was crafted," Ritter said.
Clinton County Department of Probation Director David Marcoux said his department currently has one full-time court referral specialist that oversees the pre-trial release program.
At any given time, that person supervises 50 to 60 people, a number which Marcoux believes could at least triple due to bail reforms.
'FORCED TO DEAL'
Unless the legislature is called back into session regarding some campaign finance reforms, they will not return to Albany until after Jan. 1, Assemblyman Dan Stec (R,C,I-Queensbury) said at the press conference.
"These folks are going to be forced to deal with this for at least a few weeks while we figure out if we’re going to change something.”
Those changes may have to be enacted in another budget bill in the spring, said Stec, who voted against the reforms.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh), who spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, said in a statement that he voted no on the legislation because he believes it pushes too many mandates too quickly.
"I am calling on my colleagues to work with our judicial and law enforcement partners to scale back these conditions.
"We must ensure the safety of the public is not jeopardized, while trying to find common sense solutions on bail reform and discovery.”
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