Opinion: ‘Criminal Justice Reform’ laws are radical

Dear Editor,

The so-called “Criminal Justice Reform” laws recently passed in Albany are radical and will make us less safe.

Earlier this year the Governor signed into law several “criminal justice reform” laws at the behest of legislators, primarily from urban areas. These laws were written and passed without input from prosecutors, the police, or the courts.  When the District Attorney’s Association attempted to negotiate with those legislators in Albany to scale them back to something more reasonable, we were met with cold indifference.

The new laws, which are set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, will result in radical changes to the bail process, expand defendant rights at the expense of victims and the police, and create new unfunded financial burdens on the police and prosecutors. Meanwhile, public defender offices are now being funded with grants in the hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars. These changes are nothing short of a seismic shift in the law in favor of criminal defendants, and will only serve to make us less safe and increase the real crime rate.

Historically, after a person was arrested for a serious crime a judge would consider many factors in determining if bail was appropriate and, if so, how much. Among other things, the judge could consider the defendant’s ties to the community, the seriousness of the crime, and the extent of their criminal or juvenile history.  

The new “bail” law essentially does away with this analysis and will automatically return the vast majority of defendants to the streets after arrest. This will be true even of defendants arrested for many violent felonies, home burglaries, possessing and selling large quantities of drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and even some homicides.

Below are just some of the charges for which a defendant will be released from custody, without bail:

Burglary in the second degree (home burglary); Burglary in the third degree; Robbery in the second degree (aided by another person); Robbery in the third degree; Manslaughter in the second degree; Criminally negligent homicide; Aggravated vehicular homicide; Vehicular manslaughter in the first and second degrees; Assault in the third degree; Aggravated vehicular assault; Aggravated assault upon a person less than eleven years old; Vehicular assault in the first and second degrees; Criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds; Criminal possession of a firearm; Criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree; Criminal sale of a firearm to a minor; Criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first and second degrees; Criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first and second degrees; Criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near school grounds; Use of a child to commit a controlled substance offense; Criminal sale of a controlled substance to a child; Promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child; Possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child; Promoting a sexual performance by a child; Failure to register as a sex offender; Unlawful imprisonment in the first degree; Arson in the third and fourth degrees; Grand larceny in the first, second, third, and fourth degrees; Aggravated cruelty to animals, overdriving, torturing and injuring animals; Failure to provide proper sustenance to animals; Animal fighting; Criminal solicitation in the first degree; Criminal facilitation in the first degree; Money laundering in support of terrorism in the third and fourth degrees; Obstructing governmental administration in the first and second degree; Promoting prison contraband in the first and second degrees; Resisting arrest; Hindering prosecution; Tampering with a juror; Tampering with physical evidence; Aggravated harassment in the first degree; Directing a laser at an aircraft in the first degree.

A very recent, and tragic case from Orange County, N.Y. provides an illustration of just how these new laws will work. As described by Orange County District Attorney Hoovler in a recent press release, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, at about 8:15 p.m., a defendant driving an SUV made an illegal U-turn on Route 9W in the Town of Highlands in Orange County. That illegal turn caused a motorcyclist, driving in the correct lane of travel to collide with the SUV. The motorcyclist was thrown from his motorcycle and killed. The defendant fled the scene. 

Police investigators later located the defendant in Mt. Kisco, Westchester County, where he was taken into custody. The judge set bail on the defendant in the amount of $20,000. Federal immigration authorities have also placed a hold on the defendant for possible deportation as an undocumented alien.

After Jan. 1, 2020, the law would not allow bail to be set under those conditions, and after the 1st, the Judge will be required to release that defendant, despite the seriousness of the crime, despite his fleeing the scene and the county in which it occurred, and despite the defendant’s ties to a foreign country.

The new “discovery” laws are no different. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, prosecutors will be required to turn over all material in their possession to the defendant within 15 days of the defendant’s arraignment, including once privileged grand jury material and all victim and witness statements. This will make it immeasurably more difficult for us to protect identities like we have in the past, and will likely create a chilling effect on civilians cooperating with the police.

These laws also created an explicit right of defendants to inspect crime scenes, meaning if someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night and the police are fortunate enough to catch them, not only will they immediately be released but they will also be able to obtain a court order allowing them to return to “inspect” your home since it is the scene of the crime, essentially re-victimizing you in the process.

In short, these so called “criminal justice reform” laws are actually radical changes that shift power to criminal defendants at the expense of prosecutors, the police and law abiding citizens. I urge all Tioga County residents to contact your State Senators and Assemblymen and women and express your concerns about the negative effect these new laws will have on the safety of our communities.


Kirk O. Martin

Tioga County District Attorney

Owego, N.Y.

1 Comment on "Opinion: ‘Criminal Justice Reform’ laws are radical"

  1. Is this an April Fool’s joke? Nobody in their right mind would allow such an abortion of justice. We may as well lock-up the victims to keep them safe from all ‘crazies’ on the outside. District Attorneys, judges, even police should fear for their lives. Or, just declare ”open season” on all the perpetrators running around out there.

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