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Spate Of Bills Seeks Changes To Reform Measures

Lack of agreement among Democrats how to proceed with possible changes to the state’s much-discussed criminal justice reforms isn’t stopping rank-and-file legislators from proposing changes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in Rockland County that changes to the criminal justice reform package approved last year are being discussed, though the governor didn’t give any specifics. The New York Post reported Jan. 9 that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, is considering letting the law continue as is while Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Buffalo, said during a news conference recently that tweaks may be needed but that the Senate also doesn’t want to criminalize poverty.

While the three Democrats are approaching changes from differing viewpoints, Democrats and Republicans in the state Assembly are introducing proposals left and right.

A.9019, sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Miller, D-Woodhaven and introduced in the Assembly on Jan. 10, responds to the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the state and proposes adding hate crimes to the list of qualifying offenses for bail.

“This legislation will add those offenses categorized under NYS Penal law as hate crimes as a qualifying offense, allowing the judge to use their discretion and the ability to set bail when someone charged with said hate crime is before them,” Miller wrote in his legislative justification.

A.9020, introduced by Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, R-Washingtonville, would repeal much of the criminal justice reform passed in June, including time limits for a speedy trial, criminal discovery rules, reduction of sentences for misdemeanor convictions to 364 days, requiring reports on the use of force and imposition of bail.

“This legislation is necessary to ensure public safety in New York state by repealing the Criminal Justice Reforms enacted in the 2019-20 state budget and invalidating any actions already commenced under these reforms,” Schmitt wrote in his legislative justification.

Another bill, A.9027, was introduced in the Assembly on Jan. 10 by Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Utica/Rome, and would allow courts to consider whether a person poses a current physical danger to the safety of any crime victim, person or the community when determining bail. Buttenschon wrote in her legislative justification that federal judges can consider the danger to a community posed by someone accused of a crime when setting bail or sending the accused to jail pending trial. A 1987 U.S. Supreme Court Case, United States v. Salerno, upheld preventive detention under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when defendants have been charged with a serious crime.

“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,” Buttenschon wrote in her legislative justification.

Buttenschon is also sponsoring A.9030, which would add drug and domestic violence offenses and crimes that result in death or serious physical injury as qualifying offenses for bail. The legislation was filed Jan. 10 and would amend the state Criminal Procedure Law to include class A, B, C and D drug felonies, any crime which resulted in death or serious physical injury, and an aggravated family offense in the list of offenses qualifying for bail.

Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, D-Maspeth, introduced his own legislation on Jan. 10 that would increase judicial discretion in setting bail or sending someone accused of a crime to jail to await trial. A.9051 would amend the state Criminal Procedure Law to allow judges the ability to determine if someone is a danger to themselves or others during a court proceeding and send the person to jail until the trial is over. Barnwell proposes allowing judges to determine if a person is a risk to flee to avoid prosecution, has a record of missing court appearances or has previously been convicted of a crime or engaged in activities that could lead a judge to rule the person should not be released on their own recognizance.

“While nobody should be detained pre-conviction simply because they cannot afford bail, judges still need to have the ability to make a determination of whether or not a principal is a danger to themself, and/or society,” Barnwell wrote in his legislative justification. “If a principal is determined to be a danger to themself or others, a judge should be able to remand the principal for public safety reasons. During this time and future court appearances, the principal shall be afforded due process.”

Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, D-Rockville Centre, introduced A.9054 on Jan. 10 to extend the time for prosecutors to provide discovery items to defense lawyers. Griffin’s legislation would extend discovery deadlines from 15 days to 90 days.

“The exact cost to local governments to comply with this unfunded mandate is unknown and widely disputed. The New York State Comptroller has been officially asked to provide some projected data regarding the impact of these provisions on local taxpayers,” Griffin wrote. “By immediately lengthening the timeline for discovery from 15 to 90 days, this bill will help to relieve the cost burden on local governments and homeowners who appear to be solely responsible for funding the additional personnel and purchase of materials necessary to meet the shortened timelines.”

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