Law enforcement officials, local district attorneys and state lawmakers are among those trying to stop criminal justice reforms due to take effect in the new year. Now, Republican New York State Senator Jim Tedisco and Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara have introduced a bill seeking to amend upcoming bail reforms.
Under the changes passed as part of the state budget, cash bail will be eliminated for hundreds of offenses starting January 1. Law enforcement officials across the state have decried the measure, saying it threatens public safety. Speaking to reporters at his Clifton Park office, Tedisco, of the 49th Senate District, says his bill passes the issue on to judges, allowing them to look at cases individually.
“Look at the past convictions and arrest records," says Tedisco. "If there are violent felons involved and felony arrests, we think they should have the opportunity to have discretion.”
The bill would also allow judges to consider whether a defendant has skipped court appearances in the past, and any subsequent arrests leading to trial. Santabarbara, of the 111th District, calls the proposal common sense. The bail reform includes a broad list of offenses, some of which he and Tedisco find worrisome.
“One of the things I pointed out was stalking. You know, if you are arrested for stalking and put right back out on the street, I think that poses a danger to the public, the person," notes Santabarbara. "Endangering the welfare of a child, that’s on the list too. And one that I relate to: endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person.”
Supporters of the changes say they’re overdue, and dismiss criticism as “fear mongering.” They say the bail reform will prevent lengthy jail times for low-level offenders, allowing defendants to better prepare for trial.
Schenectady activist Jamaica Miles showed up at the press conference Monday with her own questions for the lawmakers. She says poorer defendants, often people of color, can remain in jail over even small bails.
“They believe they should repeal the law that was passed by the majority of the legislature, and signed by the governor – is that not the Democratic process?" Miles asked. "And I know that they stood up here and spewed the spew, and said that this is not fear mongering – but then specifically said ‘Here are the things that you should fear.’”
Tedisco and Santabarbara say they support criminal justice reform on the whole, although both voted against the measures earlier this year. In addition to the bail reform, upcoming changes to the discovery process will require prosecutors to deliver evidence within 15 days of an indictment, instead of the day before trial. District attorneys statewide have argued they don’t have the resources to do that, and Santabarbara says the bail reform faces a similar hurdle upstate.
“New York City has a different system, they have a dedicated unit to go out and find people and bring them back so they can face trial – we don’t have that here," Santabarbara explains. "If people don’t return, most of the time we cannot take officers or resources to go find people wherever they ended up.”
Earlier, Tedisco sponsored a one-year moratorium and a full repeal of the reforms. Since the legislature doesn’t reconvene until January 8, after the reforms are set to go into effect, any action would likely require either a special session or an executive order from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has strongly supported the changes. But despite belonging to the minority Senate Republican conference, Tedisco isn’t counting himself out.
“One of the last issues I think we partnered on is ‘Plate Gate’ – [license] plate replacement. Remember the governor came out and said, ‘No no no, we need to replace all those plates, we gotta charge $25, the legislature was responsible’? You know what happened in that? There was total outrage in the community. He backed off it, didn’t he?" says Tedisco. "If we don’t have the numbers, we have the bully pulpit.”
The New York State Sheriffs’ Association, District Attorneys Association of New York, and state Conference of Mayors have all called for increased judicial discretion.