New York prosecutors, police and politicians need to get moving now to prepare for Jan. 1, when the criminal-justice “reforms” rushed through in this year’s state budget take effect. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance spelled out a host of problems in City Council testimony last week, including this doozy: The new law “essentially hands white-collar criminals a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
That’s right: State lawmakers were so eager to all but eliminate bail that they limited it to a handful of charges for violent crimes. So if cops crack, say, an identity-theft ring that’s stolen millions, the perps will walk free as soon as they’ve been arraigned — giving them the chance to, for example, hide any funds the authorities haven’t yet tracked down.
They’ll still face long prison sentences if convicted at trial — but they can’t be jailed, or forced to post bond, before then. That also plainly increases the chance that they’ll flee before triral.
Indeed, because the offenses that still allow for bail or jail are so restricted, the reforms are likely to see only lower-income and minority perps locked up. They will, Vance noted, “inevitably increase the racial and socioeconomic disparity in our jail population.”
That’s hardly the only issue. By ending cash bail over charges of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, the changes ensure that a lot of folks with long rap sheets will walk.
Indeed, the Legislature also failed to make the most basic of common-sense reforms: ordering judges to consider the danger the suspect poses to the community when setting bail. Even for the violent charges where bail is still allowed, jurists now must only consider the risk of flight.
The new rules for what evidence prosecutors must share with defense, and when, imposes other problems — including hefty costs, since DAs will suddenly have to turn over a host of info even when the case is settled via plea bargain, as the vast majority of cases are. It’s also a recipe for more witness intimidation.
It’s unlikely the Legislature will address any of this before the law takes effect. If cops and prosecutors don’t get help in preparing for this mess, expect headlines early next year about cybercriminals escaping justice and gang-crime witnesses turning up dead.
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