Local, state officials speak out against bail reform laws
UTICA — Local and state officials spoke about the issues that have arisen as a result of the 2019 bail reform laws, and called for citizens to vote the legislators who passed the laws out of office.
New York State senators Joseph A. Griffo and Peter Oberacker; Assembly members Marianne Buttenschon, Brian Miller, and Ken Blankenbush; Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.; District Attorney Scott McNamara; Oneida County Sheriff Robert M. Maciol, and Madison County Sheriff Todd Hood gathered Tuesday, Sept. 22, to share their concern about the bail laws.
New York State enacted the bail reform law in 2019, with the intent to end mass incarceration in municipalities. The law took effect in January 2020, and eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges.
Instead, the offenders are released from custody and given an appearance ticket. The intent of this is to maintain stability for low-income communities by allowing people who are awaiting trial to stay in their homes with their families and to keep their jobs.
State and local legislators, along with members of local law enforcement have made their opposition to the bail reform clear, and officials have held events to call for change to the bail law before.
Griffo said he thinks the people of New York do not feel safe because of the bail reform. He decried the lack of action from legislators in Albany to fix the issues that the law has created.
“None of us argue that we [don’t] need criminal justice reform,” Griffo said. “What we argue is that we do it right, and we solicit the input of those who are involved in dealing with criminal justice issues; people in law enforcement, and prosecution, criminal defense attorneys, all of them should have had involvement and an opportunity to give their perspective.”
“I just want to say, elections have consequences. … So if they’re not going to change these policies to protect New Yorkers, all of us need to change who’s running New York,” Griffo added.
McNamara shared the alleged case of a man who was arrested for a DWI after causing an accident in Utica, with a BAC of .32, which is four times the legal limit. As a result of the law, he was issued an appearance ticket, and he was arrested again over a month later, allegedly with two children in the car, with a BAC of .30. He was charged under the Child Passenger Protection Act, and aggravated DWI.
“What do we gotta have, another family killed in a car accident? Another innocent couple going out to dinner where this guy kills somebody? No, we can’t get bail on him. We cannot get the judge to put bail on him,” McNamara said.
McNamara criticized the lack of nuance in the law when determining what is and isn’t a qualifying and non-qualifying offense. The law was recently amended to allow bail for those who have previously been charged with a felony or a class A misdemeanor.
In the situation McNamara was discussing, DWI is an unclassified misdemeanor, so the accused man was not given bail.
Oberacker called the law an “utter failure” and expressed his full support for the law to be repealed.
“There’s that old saying, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Reverse that with cashless bail. Go ahead and do the crime, ‘cause you ain’t gonna do the time. That’s where we have fallen,” he said.
Picente said the law is a public safety issue, not a Democrat vs. Republican issue.
“What are we teaching young people today? What are we teaching children in schools? That there are no consequences for what you do?” Picente asked.
Buttenschon said that this law has taken away the ability to interpret the law from the judicial branch.
“Many of my colleagues talked about hearing from law enforcement as well as prosecutors, but I have heard from residents also, that they are concerned,” Buttenschon said.
Maciol said that New York is facing a public safety crisis.
“Our leadership is Albany, instead of dealing with this issue, they’re focusing on passing the HALT Act, which puts our corrections officers in harm’s way … we have no facilities for violent juvenile offenders, we won’t deal with that issue … you put all these things together, that’s why people feel less safe,” Maciol said.
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