ALBANY — Law enforcement and prosecutors across the state on Thursday voiced a myriad of concerns over sweeping changes to New York’s criminal justice system, ramping up an on-going debate over reform funding and implementation as the changes take effect at the beginning of 2020.
Their objections largely centered on changes to the state’s bail law and the legal process known as discovery, in which the prosecution provides information about the case to the defense.
The bail law eliminates pre-trial detention and money bail for the wide majority of misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases. It’s expected to reduce the number of people held in jail while awaiting trial, but law enforcement officials argue it will jeopardize public safety and does not give judges enough discretion over who can be released.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple equated the law to a “catch and release” scenario and suggested that sometimes pre-trial detention can deter a person from winding back in jail later on. He asked the state to slow down in changing the system and let law enforcement officials “have a seat at the table.”
Bail law supporters say it will prevent poor people from languishing in jail for low-level crimes while their cases work through the system.
Community bail funds, describing money bail as needless and cruel, said the practice coerces guilty pleas and allows for the lengthy detention of people who are legally innocent.
“Today’s efforts to derail much-needed changes to our criminal legal system is a sad attempt to disrupt a pathway to justice,” said Nicole Triplett, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.
Under the new discovery law, prosecutors will be required to turn over discovery information within 15 days after an arraignment. But there are exceptions and the prosecution can be allowed another 30 days if there’s a large amount of information or if they do not have possession of the information.
The law seeks to give defendants more information about their cases. It says prosecutors also must turn over the names and contact information of witnesses.
Law enforcement slammed the provision and argued it will prevent people from cooperating with authorities.
“It’s hard to get people (to) cooperate with the police. These laws will make it nearly impossible,” said Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan. “And as a result, dangerous people will be on our streets.”
Chief Defenders Association of New York accused certain prosecutors and sheriffs of spreading fear.
A range of officials, including prosecutors and probation directors, have said they either do not have the money or the infrastructure to carry out the new changes.
Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he does not think district attorneys need more money to implement reforms.
“Everybody always says they want more funding,” he said.
Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the New York State Division of the Budget, said the fiscal year 2020 budget is giving more than $200 million in additional revenue to counties outside New York City. He said there is “no question” that resources are available to implement the reforms.
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