Buttenschon introduces bail re-reform bills

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Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119th Dist. of Marcy, is wading into the debate over bail reform, introducing two bills to modify last year’s prohibition against cash bail in most offenses.

The first bill would allow a judge to consider the danger to the community posed by a defendant.

The second would allow judges to set bail in cases involving acts that are technically considered non-violent but which result in the death of another person, like criminally negligent homicide, drug felonies of the three highest levels, and aggravated family offenses. The latter are when a person has been convicted of violent acts like assault, menacing, stalking, rape and sexual assault against a family or household member in the previous five years.

In a statement announcing the bills, Buttenschon said the state’s criminal justice and bail system needed reform and the new laws were enacted with good intentions but do not provide enough judicial discretion to ensure public safety.

She said federal system and most states allow judges to consider danger posed by a criminal defendant in deciding on bail.

“That is sensible in order to protect crime victims, our communities and all individuals within them. This piece of legislation is necessary to ensure public safety,” Buttenschon said. “Judges should be allowed to consider the risk a person poses to the safety of a crime victim, person, or the community at large in determining whether that person should be detained pending trial.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, has defended the existing reform measures. In remarks at the opening of the new session, he said, “For too long, our criminal justice system has allowed those with the means to grease the wheels of justice, leaving those without to languish. … This removes the potential bias of judges or prosecutors, which could result in defendants being treated unfairly.”

Later, he told media organizations no one complains when high-profile wealthy defendants like film producer Harvey Weinstein face serious charges but are free on bail until trial.

Among lawmakers backing similar re-reform measures are Sen. Joe Griffo, R-47th Dist. of Rome, who issued a statement in favor of a Senate bill that would allow courts to make risk assessments on an individual’s criminal history.

Griffo also introduced a bill that would modify a related 2019 reform measure that requires all evidence be turned over to defendants within 15 days, including witnesses’ names and where they live. It was intended to make it harder for prosecutors to get guilty pleas before defendants do not have evidence that could help their case. Griffo’s bill would allow witnesses to not consent to disclosure of contact information provided they provide justification.

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