Activists rallied in March outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse to support a package of criminal justice reforms eventually passed by the Legislature. (Alec Tabak/for New York Daily News)
The top prosecutors in Staten Island and Queens joined with police unions Thursday to blast new state bail and discovery laws that take effect Jan. 1.
“We are reaching the point of the absurd when those who are accused of serious offenses are free to roam the streets," complained Staten Island DA Michael McMahon.
Staten Island DA Michael McMahon. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)
McMahon, Acting Queens DA John Ryan, and the leaders of several police unions worry that the new law will leave too many dangerous criminals free while awaiting trial and will give defense lawyers too much information about crime victims too early in the justice process.
Their remarks came in a coordinated effort by law enforcement officials in nine different press conferences in Albany and elsewhere Thursday to blunt or slow the wide-ranging reforms.
Advocates for criminal justice reform were unbowed in their response.
“For District Attorneys to try to roll back these crucial changes at this point is incredibly wrong, dehumanizing, and is a blatant attack on low to no-income communities and people of color,” said Leonard Thomas, of VOCAL-NY.
Added state Sen. Jamal Bailey, “These reforms are going to fix a broken system that has affected millions of New Yorkers. Our goal with these reforms is to finally make our criminal justice system fair and just for all.”
Gov. Cuomo noted that New Jersey passed similar laws without major problems. Rebecca Brown of the Innocence Project noted that 40 states have enacted similar reforms, with no major roll-back or increase in crime.
Under the new laws, about 90% of people arrested will be freed without bail pending trial under the laws — up from 55% currently.
The legislation also requires the courts to reduce unnecessary delays in cases — including a new rule that will make prosecutors to turn over all evidence in their cases 15 days after arraignment.
McMahon and Ryan said that under the bail law, more than 400 crimes could require mandatory release, regardless of suspects’ criminal history or danger to the community. He claimed judges have little to no discretion in setting bail, and that the 15-day deadline for turning over evidence is too onerous.
In their statement, the Chief Defenders Association — which represents the state’s public defenders — accused the prosecutors and the police unions of “using taxpayer resources to spread baseless fear.”
“I really see this as the last sort of death knell from system actors trying to keep the status quo,” said Erin George of Citizen Action of New York. “It’s the same narrative. They should be preparing, not pushing back.”
Brown said that over the past 30 years, the state has paid out $670 million in penalties and settlements for wrongful convictions, many of those preventable. “There’s been a lot of discussion about cost, but New York will save a lot of money over time by having a system where people are not blindfolded from the evidence,” she said. "And it just brings New York into the modern age.