VIEW FROM ALBANY
By SENATOR JIM SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.COM
Another week in Albany but still no legislative action has been taken to fix the disastrous bail/discovery laws that are continuing to wreak havoc across our state.
Protecting the public is one of the most important responsibilities of government, and when a crime has been committed, the victim, not the criminal, should be our first concern. Unfortunately, the disastrous new bail laws have completely reversed those priorities, endangering communities and empowering repeat offenders – while also forcing new costs on taxpayers.
This week I joined with other area lawmakers who represent our part of the state to speak out against the bail/discovery laws. Several county sheriffs and district attorneys, who are on the frontlines enforcing our laws and dealing with the negative fallout from the ill-advised reforms, also called for change.
I believe full repeal of the law is needed so we can start from scratch and enact a workable bail system. Someone arrested for a non-violent offense should not be languishing in a local jail simply because he or she does not have the economic means to make bail. However, the changes to the system have gone much too far, turning our court system into a revolving door and taking away any judicial discretion.
Commonsense legislation has been introduced in response to the concerns. I co-sponsor all of these bills, which range from full repeal to meaningful amendments, including:
- S.6839 – giving judges discretion to set bail in domestic violence cases;
- S.6840 – allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a danger to the community when determining bail;
- S.6849 – repealing criminal-justice reforms enacted in the 2019-20 state budget, including bail and discovery changes;
- S.6853 – placing a one-year moratorium on criminal justice reforms to hold statewide hearings on the measures;
- S.7133 – to allow the witness to a crime to decide whether their personal information may be shared with defense counsel or the individual accused of a crime;
- S.7280 – ensure privacy protections for all emergency personnel present at a crime scene as it relates to the discovery process.
The last two bills are extremely important when it comes to protecting the identity of witnesses of a crime and emergency personnel who are called to a crime scene. One of the more disconcerting policies enacted, as part of these sweeping changes, is the disclosure of personal information related to a witness to a crime to the defense and the accused.
Such a policy has the potential to lead to witness intimidation via the accused or their associates. This could have a crippling effect on cases presented by district attorneys, as well as a chilling effect on the willingness of witnesses to come forward to identify themselves to law enforcement and prosecutors.
It is important that the state provide a witness to a crime the ability to prevent personally identifiable information from being shared with the defense or the accused, if they feel that their safety or the safety of their loved ones is jeopardized through the reporting of such information. I would also note that a justification must be provided to law enforcement and is subject to review by a judge.
Along with introducing legislation and keeping the public informed on problems surrounding the bail/discovery law changes, the Senate Republican Conference has also commenced a statewide Repeal Bail Reform Task Force.
The task force, which just held its first meeting, will be collecting testimony from law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victims, local leaders, and the public who were shut out from publicly commenting last year before the sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice laws were enacted.
There have been countless stories, highlighting the problems with these so-called reforms since they took effect on January 1. An individual is arrested, immediately released, commits another crime, and is back in custody again – sometimes within hours. Action is needed to tilt the scales of justice away from criminals and back toward the law-abiding.