DA says state’s new bail reform puts public safety at risk

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 October 2019 at 11:00 am

‘I’m very concerned. This will forever change the landscape of our society.’ – District Attorney Joe Cardone

Photos by Tom Rivers: Joe Cardone has served as Orleans County’s district attorney since March 1992. He said recent state laws have empowered people accused of crimes.

ALBION – Jan. 1 will bring significant changes to the local criminal justice system as local judges will no longer be able to put people in jail on bail for many felony crimes.

The state is taking away discretion for judges in setting bail in non-violent felonies, and all misdemeanors and violations, said Joe Cardone, Orleans County district attorney.

Judges will be releasing most people facing felonies on their own recognizance, with an appearance ticket for an upcoming court date. Judges can hold people in jail if they are charged with murder, violating orders of protection, rape and child pornography.

Some felonies, such as second-degree manslaughter, illegal drug possession and sales, even second-degree robbery and second-degree burglary won’t have options for bail.

“We’re concerned about the safety of the people in our county and their safety being compromised,” Cardone told local officials last week during a meeting of the Orleans County Association of Municipalities. “Come Jan. 1, we will literally be opening the doors to our jail and releasing them. I don’t understand the rationale. People being victimized will see the perpetrators on the streets.”

Cardone said he expects to see the jail population cut in half on Jan. 1. The county jail currently has a capacity for 82 inmates.

Cardone said the state has swung the pendulum from protecting victims of crimes to the accused. Not only are there significant legislative changes, but the state is pouring millions of dollars into public defender’s offices, while offering no aid increases for the district attorney’s offices. The local Crime Victim’s Office is seeing its state funding cut from about $98,000 annually to $58,000.

Cardone, the county DA since March 1992, said the community will be alarmed next year to see people facing serious charges out in the community, outside of jail.

“This is not anything the local law enforcement or District Attorney’s Office is on favor of,” Cardone said. “But it’s something we have to deal with.”

The DA said some time in jail can sometimes diffuse situations, often in the cases of domestic violence or drug addiction.

The county jail staff will often work to connect people to treatment facilities, rather than just releasing them without help lined up.

“Unfortunately they may be sticking needles in their arms within minutes,” Cardone said. “I fully expect our opioid overdoses will go dramatically up. Jail can be a great vehicle to get people help.”

Joe Cardone speaks to local town, village and county officials last week during the Orleans County Association of Municipalities meeting at Tillman’s Village Inn.

As part of the criminal justice reform, law enforcement officers also need to get the contact information for those charged with crimes, and guarantee they will be contacted with reminders about upcoming court dates wither by text, email, a phone call or through registered mail. If the person doesn’t show up for court, a judge needs assurance the person was contacted before issuing a warrant for an arrest.

Those charged with crimes also have a right to return to the alleged crime scene, where a house may have been broken into or a person sexually assaulted.

The State Legislature and Gov. Cuomo approved the changes as part of the state budget adoption. Cardone said there weren’t any hearings about the criminal justice changes, and the state didn’t provide more funding for law enforcement, district attorney’s offices or probation..

“I’m very concerned,” Cardone said about the impending changes. “This will forever change the landscape of our society.”

The county estimates it will cost the DA’s Office and Probation each an additional $180,000 annually to meet the new requirements, and that will be paid for by local taxpayers.

Cardone’s office faces changes in the discovery statutes. DA’s currently have 45 days to turn over all documents and body cam video. That will be reduced to 15 days. That includes lab results.

The DA’s Office also needs to provide the defense a list of witnesses and confidential informants, including their addresses. Cardone said that will discourage people from coming forward as witnesses or informants. The DA said he will seek orders of protection for people who are informants or witnesses.

He said he worries if all the information isn’t provided to the defense by 15 days from an arrest, the defense attorneys will seek to dismiss the cases. Some of the information, such as lab results, are outside the DA’s and law enforcement’s control.

The new laws also allow a bail hearing every 30 days, for those who are in jail.

If people aren’t in jail, then may head out of state, or to Canada or Mexico. The county typically pays to have three to five people extradited from outside to the area to appear in court in Orleans County.

Cardone expects that number will rise now that fewer people will be held in jail.

“We can’t absorb that cost,” he said about extraditions.

The county also will need to create a pretrial agency “to make sure we’re not keeping people in jail who shouldn’t be in jail.” Cardone said the state hasn’t provided any standards for the pretrial agency.

“You add all this together and we have a great amount of concern over this,” Cardone said.

District attorneys and law enforcement officials from throughout the state have expressed their concerns to public safety over the new regulations. But Cardone said the state isn’t backing off.

“It’s a train that’s not going to get stopped in my opinion,” Cardone said. “There is not much chance of stopping this before Jan. 1.”

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