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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer. katherine molé mfa ... art director
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Progressive AG Letitia James WARNS About New York’s Coming Criminal Justice DISASTER
New York Attorney General Letitia James, AP Post Editorial Board
Cash shortages aside, the reforms — which require defendants to be set free with no bail for all but a handful of violent crimes — are set to trigger a host of new public safety concerns, such as witness intimidation and allowing the accused to flee, this will probably suffice:
When even officials as progressive as state Attorney General Letitia James are warning of big problems with New York state’s latest criminal justice “fixes,” it’s time to worry.
At a Senate hearing Monday, James’ aide Kate Powers, on behalf of the AG, raised major red flags about reforms rushed through the Legislature this year — especially those requiring prosecutors to turn over all evidence within 15 days of an arraignment. That includes police and medical reports, videos, phone records, forensic findings, etc.
Powers praised lawmakers for moving to “mend our broken criminal-justice system” and reform the discovery process. But she warned that “the challenges” of complying with the new mandates are “real.”
To comply, DAs with just a few attorneys for an entire county may have to “double” their support staffs, she noted. The largest offices, with the “most complex cases,” may need “investments in the double-digit millions.”
Even the state AG’s office, which handles a far smaller criminal caseload than county DAs, “will need a significant infusion,” to the tune of $10 million, Powers said. Yet there’s no sign the needed funds will be available.
Some DAs were even more blunt — and alarming: “The reforms, as drafted, are not practical,” railed Rensselaer County DA Mary Pat Donnelly. She blasted lawmakers for “playing roulette with public safety.”
Among other public safety concerns, the new rules greatly increase the chances for witness intimidation — since lawyers for the accused will know far sooner the names of those prosecutors might call to testify. Plus, DAs will have to drop some cases because they simply can’t meet the new requirements — especially when there’s no money to hire new staff.
Then, too, most accused will be sprung pending trial — only those charged with a handful of violent crimes will have to post bail. Expect more perps to flee before trial.
In short, New York may soon face a truly serious resurgence of crime.
It’s rare for this page to sympathize with officials demanding more taxpayer dollars. But state lawmakers clearly didn’t think through the consequences of these reforms.
Unless they fix the flaws and provide the funds to make the changes work before the new law kicks in Jan. 1, New Yorkers should brace for a major public safety disaster.