BIG FLATS — Assemblyman Christopher S. Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) has joined several of his peers by supporting two recently introduced pieces of legislation designed to repeal or delay criminal justice reform laws set to go into effect Jan. 1 that will eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenses and expedite the discovery process.
Friend said that while he understands the perspective that reform was needed, he believes that the reforms will have a negative impact upstate and that he would have liked to see all stakeholders in the issue come together to come up with a solution.
“We’re willing to take some time to have that discussion; we’ve had a lot of issues glossed over in rush to get bail reform put forward. We did it without talking to the real experts in these areas and to have their input, and that’s what we need to happen. I would like the opportunity for all parties to come together,” Friend said.
The reforms are supported by the New York State Bar Association, and New York State Bar Association President Sharon Stern Gerstman who testified to the Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the Proposed 2018-19 Public Protection Budget in Albany that “discovery standards for criminal cases in New York are among the most restrictive in the country.”
She also called for reforms that “help innocent or over-charged defendants fairly prepare for trial” and “encourage guilty defendants to plead guilty, based upon a fair review and evaluation of the evidence in the possession of police and prosecutors without needless and costly delays.”
Beyond bail reform, there are also changes to evidentiary procedure that require police and local district attorneys to release all evidence gathered against someone accused of a crime within specific timeframes.
“The biggest issue with that is video footage. Police are going to have to go through a ton of video footage and what happens when that footage shows the key code password to accessing a police building or other sensitive information,” Friend said.
He also brought up that he believes the reforms are inadvertently designed to hurt victims.
“For victims of domestic violence, it is now possible that offenders could be released before a judge has had time to review all the facts. It is also possible that with the new evidence discovery it will be easier for victims to be located by their abusers. I do not think that is what was intended,” Friend said.
Despite bringing up these concerns, Friend said that police departments, district attorneys and legislators from upstate New York have been ignored by downstate politicians determined to get the reforms enacted.
When discussing his opposition to the reforms, Friend also brought up the fact that the bill will have financial implications for Chemung County and Tioga County.
“Enforcement of traffic violations will suffer. Chemung County issues over 17,000 tickets a year. This would require 48 instances to be processed every day to comply with the new law. Similarly, Tioga County issues over 13,000 traffic tickets a year. Due to the fewer tickets issued, local revenue will decrease by hundreds of thousands of dollars and state revenue will decrease millions of dollars, and there is no way to recoup that loss,” Friend said.
Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss previously expressed frustration with the upcoming reforms, saying that as a result, more money will have to be spent on the District Attorney’s office.
Friend also argues that allowing drug dealers out on the streets when facing charges limits access to drug treatment and further perpetuates the cycle of drugs and violence.
“We have a drug epidemic in New York, and with (Governor Andrew Cuomo) canceling (drug treatment programs) and now with these reforms there are far fewer opportunities for drug addicts to get the treatment that they need,” Friend said.
In a statement announcing their support of the reforms last year, the New York City Bar quotes a speech from then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy where he said, “Every year, thousands of persons are kept in jail for weeks and even months following arrest. They are not proven guilty. They may be innocent. They may be no more likely to flee than you or I. But they must stay in jail because, bluntly, they cannot afford to pay for their freedom.”
Friend said that crime statistics have been dramatically decreasing in New York, and as a result, these new reforms will have less impact than people think.
“Things have been changing for the better,” Friend said.