Top local law enforcers concerned about bail reform

August 12, 2019 07:38 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The criminal justice system in the state of New York is about to change dramatically.

Come January, the majority of people arrested for committing crimes will be released with appearance tickets or arrested and arraigned but released without having to post any cash bail or bond. Lawmakers in Albany decided too many people accused of committing crimes are sitting in jail waiting for their cases to be heard simply because they can't afford to post bail. While local law enforcers say that may be true in some cases, this change to the law is going to have a lot of unforeseen consequences. 


"Most of the people in the criminal justice system are poor," says Susan Porter of the Judicial Process Commission in Rochester.

Her organization and a number of others have been lobbying for bail reform for years. This spring, lawmakers in Albany finally heard them and passed it.  

So, to reiterate, in January, cash bail or bond will be eliminated for nearly all misdemeanors and non-violent felony cases. That means, a suspect is given an appearance ticket which tells him or her when to come to court and is then released. The only exceptions are certain sex offenses, violating orders of protection, conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism-related charges. 

When it comes to violent felonies, a suspect will be brought before a judge for arraignment but the judge will now have to look at the least intrusive way to ensure he or she comes back to court.  In many cases, that may include supervised release, an ankle bracelet and/or enhanced court date reminders. There are some restrictions on judges even when it comes to these felonies…burglary and robbery in the second degree and most of those arrested for drug-related felonies will be released without having to post cash bail or bond.  

News10NBC's Jennifer Lewke: "Do you think this makes the community less safe?"

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter: "I absolutely do and that's the point I'm trying to make…we don't want kids stuck in jail because they can't come up with $200 for a petit larceny, sitting next to a homicide suspect... that's not healthy. We agree with that, but we do need to keep discretion where it belongs and those are the people in our society that are called judges."

To illustrate his point, Sheriff Baxter pointed to the case of three men, arrested by Monroe County Sheriff's deputies last week.

Investigators believe the men are responsible for a string of break-ins both in Parma and Pittsford saying they found stolen rings valued at $8,000, eight credit cards, a MacBook, a projector and a TV in their possession. At the time of their arrest, investigators say the men were breaking into a garage and one of them tried to run his car into a sheriff's deputy who was pursuing him. All three suspects, under the new rule, would be released without having to post any cash bail or bond.  

And then there's the question of making sure defendants will actually come back for their scheduled court hearings.

News10NBC recently surveyed local town courts all across Monroe County alone. There are already thousands of outstanding bench warrants.

"I'm looking at probably doubling my warrant unit that's out looking for people who fail to come back to court. We're already anticipating that in next year's budget," Sheriff Baxter adds.


Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company