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Noted Concerns Might Get Heastie Off The Fence

It’s been about two weeks since New York’s criminal justice reform laws took effect, and the Jamestown Police Department is already struggling to meet a comically short 15-day requirement to provide all of its evidence to prosecutors, who in turns provide it to defense attorneys.

In addition to the strain on police department personnel and the chance that not providing material quickly enough will mean dismissal of charges against some people who face charges, the city information technology department has to help department officials collect video evidence of each person being booked. Two departments — already understaffed and overworked — are feeling additional strain thanks to New York state.

Imagine the situation statewide.

In Niagara County, a murder trial in a 25-year-old cold case has been postponed for a third time as prosecutors struggle to meet new discovery timelines, defense complaints that the prosecution isn’t giving the defense enough time to review evidence and threats that the trial, if it moved forward as scheduled, would be illegal under the new state statutes.

These are two examples from our corner of New York state. What’s happening everywhere else?

It’s obvious to everyone — except perhaps Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — that changes to the state’s criminal justice reforms that took effect Jan. 1 are needed. 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. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said recently during a news conference that changes may be needed, but that senators also don’t want to criminalize poverty. Laughably, the New York Post reported last week that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, is considering letting the law continue as is.

It’s amazing that Heastie is on the fence about changing the law, because Assembly members in his own party are proposing changes. A.9019, sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Miller, D-Woodhaven, 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. A.9027, introduced by Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Utica/Rome, 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 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. 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. Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, D-Rockville Centre, introduced A.9054 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.

Obviously, Republicans aren’t the only ones with concerns about the state’s criminal justice system. The concerns raised by Democrats should get Heastie off the fence regarding changing the criminal justice reform package.

If it doesn’t, maybe Democrats need to find a new Assembly speaker.

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