By Joe Kuhn
Local Government and law enforcement officials are apprehensive about new criminal justice reforms passed at the state level.
Taking effect in January of 2020, these new laws will eliminate bail and pretrial incarceration for all misdemeanors and a litany of non-violent felonies, including burglary in the second degree, many drug related charges, and prostitution. Additionally, the laws will add more protections for the accused and require prosecutors to turn over all evidence to the defendant’s legal counsel within fifteen days of arraignment.
Orangetown Supervisor Chris Day, County Sheriff Louis Falco and Orangetown Police Chief Donald Butterworth have vocally criticized the impending changes.
“These reforms, if you want to call them that, raise a lot of concerns about cost and public safety,” said Day, during an informational meeting about the new laws last Tuesday.
The primary issue is funding. To meet the requirements of the new unfunded mandate local police expect to incur huge costs in both overtime and outsourcing. Butterworth believes the reforms are based on “unrealistic expectations” stating that fifteen days is not enough time to efficiently process evidence. “Lab results alone” can take longer than fifteen days to be process, said the chief, warning that precincts will almost certainly need to hire private labs to meet the new deadlines. Butterworth is also concerned that increased pressure to quickly file reports will restrict the time his officers have for community outreach and patrol duties.
The state government has not allocated any funds to help police meet the anticipated expenses. Implementing these changes could cost “about $100 million” according to projections from the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.
County officials are also worried that new laws could exacerbate the already “severe” issue of witness intimidation.
The reforms stipulate that defendants now be provided with the names and contact information of anyone who has relevant information about a case as well as the names and assignment of all police officers involved, even those the prosecutor does not plan to call to the stand. Previously, defense lawyers would have to specifically request that information which would be released at a judge’s discretion.
Police fear that the elimination of pretrial incarceration coupled with the availability of personal information “will cause victims to be victimized again”.
The new law also grants a defendant the right to request a supervised visit to the scene of their arrest to ensure the accuracy of the investigation. If the offense occurred at a private residence, the owners will be legally required to allow the suspect into their home.
“Opposition (to the reforms) knows no political boundaries” said Falco, who alongside Day has met with mayors and police chief from around the state who have all expressed similar concerns.
“No one is against criminal justice reform,” said Day who supports the reforms stated goals of reducing the number of people incarcerated “but changes (to the legislation) are necessary.”