Albany, NY – Under New York’s " justice reforms," criminals must be provided with the names and contact information of victims and witnesses involved in the case against them.
Effective January 1, 2020, prosecutors will have just 15 days from the time of arraignment to hand over all evidence pertaining to a case – including victim and witness information, WSTM reported.
Cases can be dismissed if prosecutors fail to meat the deadline, Albany County District Attorney David Soares told the news outlet.
“’By the way, I have to provide your cell phone number to his lawyer in a few weeks,’” Soares used as an example of what he will be forced to tell crime victims. “I don’t know how I’m going to have these conversations with a victim.”
Under the law change, the court can also require crime scenes to remain unchanged so that defendants can be allowed to visit them, the New York Daily News reported.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon has been speaking out about the myriad of problems the sweeping changes will have throughout the state since they were passed back in April, the Staten Island Advance reported.
“We will undoubtedly see a chilling effect on cooperation by those impacted by crime, choosing instead to protect their own privacy and avoid being re-victimized,” McMahon warned. “While there certainly was room to improve New York’s criminal justice system, the ‘reforms’ to our bail and discovery statutes supported by our state Legislature and Governor Cuomo blew past any semblance of fairness or justice.”
Soares noted that some aspects of the law changes are essentially impossible to comply with, such as being mandated to turn over DNA or toxicology results that won’t even be back from the lab within the 15-day period.
“When we pointed it out to the governor’s office that they need to increase staffing at the labs, they just shrugged their shoulders,” he told WSTM.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spokesperson, Jason Conwall, argued that prosecutors can simply file a request for a 30-day extension if there is a valid reason why evidence can’t be obtained within the 15-day window.
“We carefully considered the views of law enforcement to ensure we enacted balanced reforms that were long overdue and will bring greater fairness to New York’s criminal justice system,” Conwall declared.
Soares said his office has been scrambling to digitize all of its evidentiary files, including some that date back for decades, in order to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
But the ramifications of the criminal justice reform laws are even more wide-reaching.
Offenders found in possession of a wide array of weapons – including guns, switchblades, swords, machetes, and stun guns – will now be issued a “desk appearance ticket” and “set free,” the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) pointed out in a Facebook post on Dec. 3.
Lawmakers also eliminated cash bail for hundreds of other criminal charges.
On Nov. 19, Queens Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney James Quinn released a complete list of the offenses that judges will no longer be able to set bail for.
“Under the new bail laws…Judges in New York State cannot set bail on any of the following crimes (and most attempts to commit these crimes), and must release the defendant on non-monetary conditions, regardless of criminal record, ties to the community or previous bench warrants on other cases,” Quinn wrote.
The list stretched on for four pages, and included offenses such as stalking, arson, resisting arrest, money laundering in support of terrorism, rioting, vehicular assault, unlawful imprisonment, negligent homicide, and a slew of drug-related charges.
Criminal offenses against children, including child abuse, promoting child prostitution, facilitating female genital mutilation, and possessing or promoting a sexual performance by a child will also be treated with a mandatory release.
Obstructing governmental duties by means of a bomb, killing a police K9 or horse, and obstructing emergency medical services personnel were also included on the no-jail list.
The city of New York has even launched a plan to hand out Mets baseball tickets and gift cards to offenders as an incentive to get them to show up to their scheduled court hearings after their no-bail jail releases.
Critics argued that doling out movie tickets, subway passes, and various store gift cards will reward criminal behavior, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the incentive program will be a success, according to WCBS.
“In a world where we want speedier trials and we want the justice system to work, if small incentives are part of what actually makes it work, then that’s a smart policy,” de Blasio told WCBS on Wednesday. “It’s not something we developed. It’s something that has been worked on by experts over time and proven to work and proven to be a good investment.”
As confident as the mayor may be in the plan, many of those who have actually worked with offenders disagreed.
McMahon said the program is part of a “deranged mandate,” the New York Post reported.
“We are reaching the point of the absurd when those who are accused of serious offenses are free to roam the streets or even rewarded with gifts while the rights of victims continue to be ignored,” McMahon railed.
“They are tying our hands, they’re tying our feet and they’re gagging victims from coming forward to stand up for their rights,” McMahon added, according to the New York Post. “Many people accused with violent crimes, serious felonies, are going to be back on the street.”
District Attorneys Association of the State Of New York President David Hoovler said that citizens should “brace themselves” for the onslaught of “lawbreakers who will be immediately back on our streets to re-offend without any meaningful supervision.”
“We’re going to have a major public safety issue on our hands,” bail bondsman Ira Judelson told WCBS. “It’s basically like going to school without a principal, without guidance counselors, without teachers and let students be in school and say ‘fend for yourself.'”
New York Assemblyman Mike LiPetri called the program a “travesty of justice,” WCBS reported.
“These are criminals in our communities who have solicited sex from children,” LiPetri argued. “These are criminals who solicited drugs in our neighborhoods, such as heroin, opioids, fentanyl.”
Nick Langworthy, leader of the New York Republican Party, said that the entire reform plan is “downright dangerous,” the New York Post reported.
“It’s absolutely an embarrassment to have this rush of release of prisoners with no additional protections,” Langworthy said. “And the chief architect is [New York Governor] Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo owns this.”
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino, who spent 18 years as a judge, told WRGB there should be more qualifying offenses for bail.
"You leave for work in the morning, we arrest em’ at 7 o’clock on a raid. You get home at 6 o'clock, by the time you get issued an appearance ticket they're back out on the street,” Sheriff Giardino said.
The sheriff said that law enforcement officers are going to spend a lot of time tracking down people who fail to appear for court.
"You're going to see a large spike in people not going to court in the first six to nine months of this, then you're going to see our officers spending numerous hours, numerous days tracking people who have been bench-warranted,” he said.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism John Miller called the plan “misguided” and said that 99 percent of people who are arrested will be released under the new plan, WLNY reported.
“Everybody who gets arrested for anything except for maybe murder and attempted murder is going to be released without having to pay any bail, right at arraignment,” Deputy Commissioner Miller said.
He said the new plan eliminated any incentive for criminals not to repeat their crimes, WLNY reported.
“The [suspect] is immediately released without having to pay any bail or spend any time in jail, and then within three weeks they have the name of the person who was the complainant, they have the [names of the] witnesses, they have their addresses and their phone numbers,” Commissioner Miller said.
“That’s gonna be a real problem,” he added. “And one we could’ve seen coming.”
In June, New York Police Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) President Ed Mullins warned that the bail reform would lead to “a free-for-all” equivalent to the “movie The Purge,” the New York Post reported.
“This is the beginning of it,” Mullins said. “Law enforcement is going to be out there holding this bag of crap when it starts. The judges are going to get the blame when they start releasing people back into the streets.”
On Dec. 19, State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan urged Assembly and Senate majorities to call a special session to discuss and shore up problematic areas created by the criminal justice reforms, the Times Union reported.
Many legislators had already requested a one-year moratorium, WTSM reported.
"I'm not going to go lightly along with the implementation of the law," Flanagan said, according to the Times Union. "I think it's going to be disastrous."
But Senate Majority spokesman Mike Murphy has made it known that a special session is unlikely to happen.
“These days it seems the Republicans in Albany are either fleeing their crumbling conference or fear mongering and lying about the new justice reforms," Murphy declared on Dec. 19. “The reality is all these reforms will save taxpayer money, improve monitoring and oversight for suspects of low-level crimes, protect New Yorkers’ rights and keep our communities safe.”