News of Otsego County

New York state justice reform

On Jan. 1, Prosecuting Crimes To Get Harder, D.A. Muehl Foresees


On Jan. 1, Prosecuting

Crimes To Get Harder,

D.A. Muehl Foresees

Editor’s Note:  This is the second article in a three-part series on New York State’s justice reforms, which go into effect Jan. 1.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

John Muehl

COOPERSTOWN –Fifteen days is nowhere near enough time to marshall all evidence in a criminal case, argued District Attorney John Muehl.

But that’s what the justice reforms that came out of Albany during the state Legislature’s last session will require.  They go into effect Jan. 1.

“The new ‘discovery requirements’ mean the prosecution has to get everything from the police within 15 days of arraignment so that we can turn it over to the defense,” he said during a presentation to local police officers on the state’s new discovery requirements on Thursday, Nov. 21.

The crowd include sheriff’s deputies, Oneonta police, village police, state troopers.  Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner was among attendees.

Muehl gave an example. “So let’s say you pull over someone on I-88 for speeding and you find five pounds of heroin in their trunk. You have to test it, but those lab results aren’t under our control, so we can’t comply with those 15 days.”

In that case, he said, police would have no choice but to take the heroin as evidence, but let the defendant go. The defendant could only be indicted and arrested after the lab results came back proving the substance was heroin.  That could take 6-8 months.

“The governor thinks we should have no problem finding them,” Muehl said sarcastically.

Failure to comply, he said, means the case could be dismissed. “Why would the defense need to see our evidence in 15 days?” he said. “No one goes to trial in 15 days.”

And from the day of arraignment, he added, the new regulations mean the prosecution has six months to take the case to trial.

“We’re going to have a lot of people who commit serious crimes, but are never prosecuted, because we have to wait to get evidence,” he said. “And when we do get the evidence, we’re never going to find the criminal to arrest them.”

Chief among his concerns are making arrests of drug dealers. “We can indict them, but we might never find them,” he said. “And even if we do find them, now we can’t put bail on them.”

He also worries about the impact on the county’s Drug Court system. “When people go to Drug Court, it’s usually because they’re in jail, they’re finally sober and they realize that they need to make a change,” he said. “If we can’t arrest them, if we can’t put them in jail, they’re out there using.”

In addition to the tightened schedule for turning over evidence, Muehl said that the defense council has expanded rights to look at the evidence with the defendant present – even if it is the crime scene.

“I’m sure it’s very comforting to the victim of a break-in to have someone that same person come back in and look around,” he said.

Additionally, Muehl would have to make a motion to redact the names of undercover informants and witnesses. “How many confidential informants will we have if they know the defense can see them?” he said. “And if we’ve got someone who’s the victim of a stranger rape, we have to turn over the name and address of the victim so the defense can contact her.”

Since April, Muehl has been upgrading the DA’s office with electronic discovery programs, including the Digital Evidence Management System, to assist law enforcement with filing their evidence within the 15 days.

“You need to give me everything in your case file,” he said. “That means all of that has to be converted to an electronic format and filed in DEMS.”

The new regulations go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

“We just have to all work together and we’ll get through it,” Muehl said. “But I see a lot of fallout coming. The state doesn’t see that there’s any difference between a speeding ticket and a triple homicide.”

Will End Of Bail Endanger Us?


Will End Of Bail

Endanger Us?

Editor’s Note: With New York State’s judicial reforms going into effect Jan. 1, Otsego County judicial and law enforcement leaders have been expressing concerns about possible negative impacts locally.  This article, on severely reducing the number of crimes that allow suspects to be held on bail, is the first of three articles.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr.

COOPERSTOWN – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr. recognized that criminal justice reform was needed, but with new bail reforms looming, he fears the state may have gone too far.

“This is going to put criminals back on the streets and take police off the streets while they do paperwork,” he said. “It wasn’t well thought through, and law enforcement wasn’t consulted.”

The bail reform, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, eliminates bail and remand for all but a limited group of “qualifying offenses,” including some violent felony offenses, sex offenses, criminal contempt with domestic violence and witness tampering or intimidation.

And when bail is allowed, financial circumstances and the ability to secure a bond must be considered. A judge can order that Least Restrictive Non-Monetary Conditions can be imposed, including restrictions on travel and weapons possession or electronic monitoring.

But several felonies – criminally negligent homicide, possession of a gun on school grounds and assault among them – are not qualifying offenses and would not be subject to bail.

For example, Kimberly Steeley, who is charged with smothering her infant twins Bonde and Liam, was charged with two counts manslaughter in the second degree in May, and released on $100,000 bond. Under new bail reform, no such bail would have been set, as manslaughter in the second degree is not a qualifying offense.

In addition to qualifying offenses, bail can be set if a defendant doesn’t show for court dates or commits additional crimes while awaiting trial.

Each county will be required to have a Pre-Trial Service Agency, either in-house or on contract, to monitor defendants and notify them of their court dates. “They’ll have to hold their hands,” said Christopher DiDonna, assistant district attorney. “It’s their responsibility to make sure the defendant shows up.”

Devlin also worries that the new standards will have a negative consequences for people who are struggling with drug addictions. “Sometimes jail is needed,” he said. “When we arrest someone who has a drug problem, we try to get them help. If there are no ramifications, they might not seek that help themselves.”

And with new standards for arrests – all evidence must be turned over to the prosecution within 15 days of arraignment – Devlin fears that many criminals will remain free while lab tests hold up their formal arrest.

“If someone drives drunk and kills someone, we can’t arrest them until the lab results come back,” he said. “That could be six months, and meanwhile, they’re out there. It’s going to mean more open cases with no arrests for us.”

And if someone who has been arrested, but not held on remand or bail, decides to skip court dates, it’s up to Devlin to determine whether or not to track them down.

“If someone flees, we have to go get them,” he said. “We have to decide if they’re worth the money.”

However, Devlin does not see bail reform having a long-term impact on the Otsego County Jail, which is currently undergoing repairs after a series of leaks rendered it uninhabitable.

Though repairs are underway, Devlin is still preparing to ask the county to budget funds for a new jail. “Corrections has changed since our jail was built,” he said. “There’s no way to fix it to those standards. We need a new jail.”

Based on states like New Jersey, which had also implemented bail reform, Devlin expects a short-term drop in inmates of around 40 percent.

“But when people are remanded for not showing up, or they are sentenced, we expect to see the population rebound,” he said. “But the ones that will be there, they’re not the best behaved people.”

“Criminal justice needed to be discussed,” he said. “But we slid the other way, and that worries me.”

NEXT WEEK: Justice Reform and discovery requirements.

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