By Jasmine Willis
DANSVILLE — There is talk about the law going into effect at the start of the new year.
The Criminal Justice Reform Act will have a new set of laws and rules starting Jan. 1, 2020. In April 2019, New York State passed sweeping criminal justice legislation, strictly curtailing the use of cash bail and pretrial detention, overhauling rules governing the sharing of evidence, and strengthening measures intended to ensure a defendant's right to a speedy trial.
The New York’s Bail Reform Law as it is being called will change the way local, county, and state law enforcement handles arrests, cases, and the discovery process.
On Oct. 1, Gregory J. McCaffrey, Livingston County district attorney gave insight into the new law at the Dansville Rotary Club.
“This is going to completely change the criminal justice system upside down on its head. Your community members, business leaders, and elected officials are going to be outraged by this legislation. I don’t agree with it. I am a prosecutor not a politician,” he said. “This is what the Democrats in Albany did, and this is all horrible. This is the most anti-victim legislation in the history of the United States of America. This is the most anti-law enforcement legislation I have ever seen. This is terrible. Law enforcement are retiring over this law.”
There are two parts; The Bail Reform and the Discovery Reform. McCaffrey explained what these two reforms mean to the law enforcement.
“It is going to be broken down to two parts. There is Bail Reform, which means people going to jail are being released. The second is Discovery Reform. What that means for a prosecutor that if you are the police in the village of Dansville, Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, or even State Police when you make an arrest a police report is made. That is called Discovery,” he said. “We have an open file in my office that if we have paperwork, we can turn it over to the FBI. The law requires certain things get turned over, but we turn over all the files. This doesn’t happen down state. If the prosecutors and police have files, they will hide them. I don’t like it or agree with it, but that is all a down state problem.”
As of Jan. 1, 2020 under the New York State Bail Reform Law there will only be nine qualified offenses allowed under this reform. Right now, there are over 30 unsentenced men in the county jail. Under this law about half of them will be released from jail. Right now, there are about 17 unsentenced females in the county jail. Under this law about half of them will be released from jail as well.
The qualified offenses are violent felonies such as murder, rape, child sex crimes, major human trafficking, and homicide.
The unqualified offenses are considered non-violent offenses such as burglary, drug trafficking, and pretty much most of the arrests made in the county.
McCaffrey gave a scenario of someone breaking into a person’s house and stealing a gun. This would no longer count as a qualified offense. This would be a burglary, and as long as no one was killed the person could not be arrested. If someone jumps you on the sidewalk and steals your wallet this no longer qualifies as an offense.
McCaffrey said by law anyone who is not sentenced for these crimes needs to be released by Christmas of this year. He is concerned for the safety of the public by putting these people back on the streets.
The state wanted every county to have a pre-trial program set in place for this new law, but our county does not have any money for this program. McCaffrey said all the money is tied up in the public defender’s office for the state.
Other things to go with the new law is the electronic home monitoring, which is paid for by the county at $60 a day. Now this will count towards jail time for the defendant. This means the person can be at home for three months’ probation, and that will count towards jail time.
Another thing about the new law is that the defendant’s will need to give their personal choice of contact for court dates. This means that a defendant can decide if they want the court clerk to contact them via phone, cellphone, text, email, or mailing address. When the defendant gets an appearance ticket to come to court, they can have an unlimited amount of times to show up.
The police officer issuing this ticket must put the defendant’s personal choice of contact in the system within 24 hours of that ticket.
“This new law will become a nightmare for police,” McCaffrey said. “They already have a hard time getting respect from the public, and now it is going to get a lot worse for them.”
Now before they can even take a defendant to court there is an entire series of events that need to occur to be sure the entire process is done right.
McCaffrey explained that every little item pertaining to that investigation needs to be put in the Discovery. This will increase the process by several hours, and once the items have been collected by all the police officers, surveillance footage from every business, text messages, body-cameras, and witness statements this all gets sent to the defendant and his or her attorney. Before this can all happen, everything that exists in that investigation must be turned to the District Attorney.
“Now the law enforcement has to turn over everything that exists to me, and I will not be allowed any time to go over it. I must turn over everything to the defense. If I don’t get it all done and turned over in the time allowed, I could be sued and lose my law license,” he said.
The mandatory information in the Discovery Reform will consist of all the 911 calls linked to the call center, radio transmissions, video and audio recordings, body-camera footage, and everything else connected to the investigation. If anything is missing from the file, the case will be dismissed.
Some other new things with the Discovery Reform consist of privacy that no longer exists. Private conversations had with the attorney will not go to the defense. An example of this was given of a nine-year-old girl who is rapped by her uncle and has to testify. She wants to do so in a safe private room, but under the new law the uncle will hear her testimony.
The named and information of civilian witnesses will be public, expert witnesses and businesses will be needed 60 days before trial, and witness statements will be turned over.
Some significant details about the new law include an example of someone breaking in the house to steal a gun will now be able to back to your home with his or her attorney to reevaluate the crime scene. This means that you will by law have to let this person back into your home to relive the entire burglary.
“I believe this entire new law flips the justice system around,” McCaffrey said. “Now arrests won’t be made to protect the community. Now we will have a mass exodus at the jail. It will become a lawless society.”
McCaffrey pointed out some of the key issues in the new law.
“Police officers will not have 15 days to get everything to me for the Discovery. It is county money we are all spending. The entire thing has been flipped backwards. It is all about protecting the defendant and their rights. The town judge and court clerk will be in court all of the time now. We will have police on trial all of the time now,” he said. “We are all going paperless now and everything has to be put on the Digital Cloud. It puts out the message that arrests are bad and investigations are good. We need to test 100 percent of our drugs now, and we don’t have the manpower for it. We have lack of money, time, and space for this.”
McCaffrey said he has 25 of the biggest and toughest cases right now and that is what he was elected to do. Now he will have all of this added on to him.
The entire thing comes down to New York City. They have a problem with keeping people in jail without seeing an attorney or getting a court date for years. This is the way to fix the mess in down state, according to McCaffrey.
Since the law has already been passed there is nothing that can be done to change the outcome. All that can be done now is be informed, which is what McCaffrey is doing all over the county in towns and villages.