County Legislature asks state to delay bail reform, discovery mandate

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 December 2019 at 8:40 am

Legislators say changes, effective Jan. 1, endanger public safety

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to delay bail reform and new discovery laws because legislators say the changes, effective Jan. 1, put public safety at risk.

“The Orleans County Legislature does hereby implore the State of New York to immediately amend or otherwise delay implementation of these laws by convening an emergency session of the State Legislature, or by emergency executive authority, or by any other means deemed possible by the State, and to do so before Dec. 31, 2019,” the County Legislature said in a resolution passed last Wednesday.

The new state legislation for bail and discovery was approved as part of the state budget for 2019-20. County legislators said the State Legislature and governor approved the changes without public or law enforcement input, and the bail reform has stripped judges of their discretion to set bail in many specific crimes.

The state determined there shouldn’t be cash bail for crimes such as third degree assault, aggravated vehicular assault, burglary and many charges where judges typically have set some bail, including subcategories of homicide and manslaughter.

The state law allows people being held in jail for non-qualifying crimes under the new statue to be released from custody on Jan. 1.

The discovery bill overhauls the discovery process and requires an expedited timeline to provide materials such as police reports, radio transmissions, body-worn and dash-cam video, laboratory test results and volumes of other materials and data related to prosecution.

The mandate to turn over voluminous trial-related material within 15 days “will inevitably not be achieved in some cases and may result in the inability of the People to properly prosecute cases against criminal defendants,” the County Legislature stated in its resolution.

The discovery bill also requires the disclosure of victim and witness names and identifying information to the accused without adequate mechanisms to protect against witness intimidation and tampering. Additionally, the law creates a statutory right for the accused to visit a crime scene even if it is a private home, according to a news release last month from the District Attorneys Association of the State of NY, NYS Association of Chiefs of Police, and NYS Sheriffs’ Association.

The state legislation also will require law enforcement agencies or the courts to send multiple notifications to defendants for their court appearances.

County officials are asking state legislators and the governor to:

• Give judges the discretion to set bail “when appropriate” for crimes.

• Increase the discovery timeline from 15 days to a minimum of 45.

• Phase in discovery reform by applying the new reforms to only misdemeanors, effective Jan. 1, 2020, and then for felonies on Jan. 1, 2021. The discovery provisions for violations  to vehicle and traffic law should be repealed.

• Court appearance reminders should also be sent to victims of crimes, not just the defendants.

• “Extend appropriate dignity, fairness and respect to crime victims by soliciting input from victim advocate organizations and considering their suggestions for improving these laws.”

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