Local officials blast state bail, trial overhaul

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily Star Delaware County District Attorney John Hubbard, surrounded by members of area police departments and state and county officials, speaks at a media conference regarding changes to the state’s bail laws at the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, Nov. 21. 

Members of local law enforcement, district attorneys, probation directors and local and state elected officials gathered at the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday to voice concerns over upcoming changes in the state’s bail law.

It was one of several such gatherings of law enforcement and prosecutors across the state Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Under the new bail law, there will be no more cash bail and pre-trial incarceration for the wide majority of misdemeanor and nonviolent cases, according to the AP. The overhaul’s purpose is to “improve equity and fairness in the criminal justice system,” according to www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s2101. It takes effect in January 2020.

The push for reform was partly inspired by the story of Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers Island for a robbery charge, two of which were spent in solitary confinement, because his family couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail, according to the New York Times. The robbery charge was dropped because of lack of evidence in 2013. Two years later, Browder committed suicide.

Among the participants at the Southern Tier conference were state Sen. Fred Akshar, a spokesperson for state Sen. James Seward, Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond, Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery, Delaware County District Attorney John Hubbard, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr., Broome County Sheriff Dave Harder, Delaware County Probation Director Scott Glueckert, Delaware County Clerk Debra Goodrich and Delaware County Treasurer Bev Shields.

DuMond said he didn’t deny that reform was needed, and that people shouldn’t be held in jail for minimal offenses or nonviolent misdemeanors.

“Everyone agrees for minor offenses, non-violent offenses, we can talk about reform all day long,” he said. “We agree.”

DuMond called the new law “extreme ideology” that was being thrust upon the community without its consideration.

He called upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to suspend the effective date of the new laws for at least three months so the criminal justice system and the public could give input on the changes.

He read from a list prepared by Queens Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney James C. Quinn of crimes that wouldn’t require money bail under the new law. They included robbery, criminal sale of a controlled substance, burglary, reckless assault of a child, second-degree manslaughter, any prostitution offense, killing a police work dog or police work horse and obstructing emergency medical services. 

A full list is available on the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

DuMond said he was particularly disturbed by the elimination of bail for obstructing emergency medical services.

“Obstructing emergency medical services, it’ll be them, next then it’ll be the firemen, then it’s going to be the teachers, then the social workers,” DuMond said. “It’s going to transcend into every aspect of our community because there’s no immediate consequences for egregious behaviors.”

Glueckert discussed pre-trial services, such as a risk-assessment instrument, for those accused.

In 2017, New Jersey started using a risk-based system as opposed to relying solely on setting money bail as a condition of release, according to www.njcourts.gov/courts/criminal/reform.html. He said New Jersey funded the program and has a pre-trial risk assessment instrument, but said New York doesn’t have such an instrument and there is no funding anticipated for the new law.

“New York has put nothing into it,” he said. “New York state’s population is at least twice that of New Jersey, so extrapolate the math and imagine how much money we’re going to need to make this effect be successful.”

Hubbard spoke about changes in the legal process known as discovery, where information about the case is provided by the prosecution to the defense. Under the new law, all material, including police reports, witness statements, radio transmission, body cameras and dashboard cameras, would need to be disclosed to the accused within 15 days after their first appearance in court.

“The discovery reform also changes the scope of discovery,” he added. “It requires the immediate disclosure of a witness’s name or the victim’s name and the contact information to the accused — that’s subject to a protective order but that’s what the statute says. This new rule would make a victim or witness less likely to report a crime and less likely to cooperate in the investigation.”

Akshar, wearing his sheriff’s association pin from his past law enforcement service, called the new law “nothing more or less than a criminal bill of rights.”

“I, not even respectfully, I just disagree with the governor,” he said. “That this is in fact political. It’s political for them so that they can check a box and say ‘Yes we advanced these policies because it is good for us politically. To hell with law-abiding everyday hardworking New Yorkers, we’re going to advance our liberal policies.’”

A 2018 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics suggested that black people tend to be treated more severely than white people by judges who set bail, regardless of whether the judge is black or white.

The panel was asked to respond to the argument that the bail reform would help communities of color and the economically disadvantaged.

“When it comes to violent offenses, I don’t think race or any other reason should come into the equation,” DuMond said. “What did you do, what is your risk of committing further violence upon the community. To make this a racial issue again, it’s just sad.”

He said Delaware County does not have the problem of people “languishing in jails.”

“That’s a problem they have in New York City and that’s another problem that’s ended up being our problem in upstate New York,” he said.

Erin George, Civil Rights Campaigns Director for Citizen Action of New York, said in upstate New York communities there’s been an increase in pretrial incarceration, primarily for black and brown and economically disadvantaged New Yorkers. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, Delaware County’s pre-trial jail population increased 78% from 2009 to 2018. In Chenango County, the pre-trial jail population increased by 55% from 2009 to 2018. 

George said the chorus of voices across the state opposing the reform have something in common.

“The fact that they’re aligning themselves with Senate Republicans and the agenda of President Trump, it’s quite telling,” George said, adding that “it’s predominantly white men” who are unconcerned about “the impact of these laws, the harms of these laws have caused to communities of color for generations ... What it’s telling of is they don’t have the best interest of all New Yorkers in mind. What they have in the best interest is maintaining the status quo.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

Recommended for you