TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

D.A. bemoans bail reforms

MONTICELLO, NY — The New York State Legislature, as part of the budget process, passed legislation that will eliminate bail as a condition of release for 90% of people accused of crimes in the state. Cash bail will still be an option for violent crimes and for Class A felonies such as kidnapping or murder, but people charged with other crimes will be released on their own recognizance (ROR).

In pushing for the reform, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it would end the current situation wherein people who can afford bail, get to go home. Those who can’t, sit in jail, effectively creating a two-tier system of justice.

Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell, who is running to become a county judge, said the new system will cost his office and the county more money. He said when a person is arrested and released, and then is rearrested in another jurisdiction, his office or other law enforcement personnel then become responsible for picking that person up to continue the prosecution in Sullivan County.

“And if we don’t do it, we have to dismiss our charges, because our speedy trial clock is ticking,” Farrell said. They then have to deliver the person back to where he or she was picked up. “Even simply going down to Orange County requires two officers to go pick somebody up who has been detained, and bring them back for a 20-minute hearing, and then take them back. It takes time, it takes money and it takes energy.”

Farrell said he understood the thinking that lead to the change in the laws. If the ultimate sentence for an offender is going to be probation or something other than jail, the person should not be confined to jail while his or her case goes through the system. But he said he thinks the people that passed the legislation did not think through the consequences or the costs of change.

 “I have a guy right now [who] was arrested for a burglary in the Town of Fallsburg. We sought to increase bail because one of the things that he stole was a loaded handgun,” Farrell said. “The judge declined our request to increase bail. He’s out on bail, and he gets rearrested in Putnam County, now he’s in the Putnam County Jail and we have to go get him.”

Farrell said such transportation issues are “going to become acute once we’re releasing burglars and robbers… and sex offenders—failure to register—that’s on the list for presumptive release. Sex trafficking is on the list, distribution of child pornography is on the list of presumptive ROR.”

Farrell said the same applies to suspects who go to other states. A defendant who was in drug court absconded and had to be picked up in South Carolina, he said. “Once we know where they are, we have to go get them.” He said the other state may say “we’re not done with him,” but at some point the suspect has to be picked up by Sullivan County employees.

In a related matter, last year, Farrell remembered a decision in the Appellate Court in which the court ruled that the county could compel a suspect to bear the cost of his own electronic monitoring. Farrell noted that lawmakers addressed the issue in the reform legislation and wrote in the statute, “the offender shall not pay for electronic monitoring, so we have to pay for it.”

Farrell said that with the new ROR laws, “public safety was sacrificed at the altar of reform.” He said, “Cops are going to dub it ‘catch and release.’”

 

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