Bail reform backlash

January 23, 2020 Paula Katinas
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Opponents push for changes to new law

BOROUGHWIDE — A major backlash against New York State’s controversial bail reform law is showing signs of growing as elected officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, look for ways to amend the brand new statute amid cries that it is sending dangerous criminal suspects back onto the streets.

In the latest twist, Cuomo mentioned the bail reform law in his address outlining the executive budget on Tuesday and said he is open to making changes. The governor also told CBS 2 News reporter Marcia Kramer in a recent interview that he believed something should be done. “We will do whatever’s necessary to do,” he told Kramer. “I think something is necessary. The question is what.”

But supporters of the law remained steadfast and were quick to defend it, charging opponents with fear mongering.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie urged patience, citing the fact that the law has been in effect less than a month. “We want safe communities, but it is important to have a criminal justice system that treats everybody fairly,” amNewYork quoted him as saying.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature in April and went into effect on Jan. 1, prohibits cash bail in most arrests involving misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. The law is designed to deal with inequities in the criminal justice system that allow more affluent suspects to post bail and get out of jail while low-income suspects with few financial resources wind up in jail awaiting court dates for minor crimes.

The problem, according to opponents, is that the law has resulted in suspects arrested for hate crimes, drunk driving and other offenses being released without bail to repeat their crimes.

Critics cited the case of Tiffany Harris, a 30-year-old Flatbush woman arrested and charged with punching three Orthodox Jewish women in Crown Heights on Dec. 27 who was released on her own recognizance.

A police officer with more than two decades in the NYPD lashed out against the bail reform law to the Home Reporter, charging that the law is making life harder and more dangerous for the cop on the beat. “When we went for the training for the new bail reform law, it was nicknamed ‘The Purge Training,’” the cop told this paper.

The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, cited the case of Edward Branch, a suspect who had been arrested 13 times between Dec. 23 and Jan. 9 in three different precincts in Brooklyn North. “They keep letting him out,” the cop said.

“Unacceptable,” the officer added.

Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, an outspoken critic of the bail reform law, said she was pleased that Cuomo had mentioned it in his budget address. “In his budget address, Cuomo finally acknowledges botched bail laws need to be fixed,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Malliotakis, however, laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Cuomo and lawmakers who voted for the bill. “If he responded to ‘facts, not politics’ to begin with, New York wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with,” she said, quoting the governor’s catch phrase.

Malliotakis told Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, “If this reckless law doesn’t get fixed, Gov. Cuomo and every state legislator who voted for it and the other elected officials who voiced support for it will all have blood on their hands.”

The law was championed by the ACLU among other groups.

In December, prior to the law going into effect, ACLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman issued a statement in which she said that bail reform, “will mean that thousands of New Yorkers who are presumed innocent of the misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges they face will no longer be forced to sit in jail awaiting trial.”

The question of whether a potentially dangerous suspect should be given bail is an unfair question, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which reported in December that New York State has not allowed public safety to be used as a consideration in bail decisions in court since 1971. A judge is only permitted to consider the likelihood of the defendant coming back for their court date in deciding whether to give the individual bail or not, the Brennan Center reported.

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