Wyoming County DA: Bail reform law limits access for those in addiction
The Wyoming County district attorney on Wednesday spoke out against New York State’s new bail reform rules, stating that they will adversely affect law enforcement’s efforts to assist those struggling with drug addiction.
Speaking at the GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting at the Quality Inn & Suites in Batavia, Donald O’Geen said that state lawmakers’ decision to require automatic appearance tickets or “released on own recognizance” status for all misdemeanor and non-violent felonies means that many who are using opioids or other drugs won’t have access to treatment programs provided in local jails.
“This law takes us back to where we we’re 30 years ago,” he said, adding that the powers-that-be in Albany passed these new rules without the input of the police agencies or attorneys who deal with crime on a regular basis.
Bail now can only be set on certain qualifying offenses, such as first- and second-degree assault, rape, manslaughter, sexual abuse, but suspects must be set free for crimes such as second-degree burglary, grand larceny, non-violent homicides and, according to O'Geen, "every single drug case.”
“We want to treat the users, but you have to (be able to) get after the dealers,” he said.
O’Geen said the reform measures are based upon a “false narrative” – that poor people are languishing in jail because they can’t make bail.
“That is definitely not true,” he said. “The ones incarcerated are the flight risks and those who present risks to public safety.”
The district attorney also noted that the time restrictions to turn over documents to defense lawyers – in most cases, 15 days – put a huge burden on police, district attorneys and labs.
“This is not CSI New York. You don’t go to a commercial break and the labs (results) are done,” he quipped.
He said that the new rules, which took effect on Jan. 1, have created a “lawlessness system” where many of those charged don’t show up for their court appearance.
“If they don’t show up, we have to send a second notice,” he said. “If they fail to appear again, we have to wait another 48 hours and send out another notice before we can issue a warrant for their arrest.”
O’Geen said pressure is being put on Gov. Cuomo to modify the law, but criticized the State Assembly for “holding fast” to the current provisions.
“I think the only way it will happen (modifications) is through his budget,” he said. “That’s how it passed in the first place.”
According to a Siena College poll released on Tuesday, more New Yorkers are taking O’Geen’s view.
The poll found that 49 percent of respondents said the changes were bad for New York while 37 percent said they were good for the Empire State, a far cry from April 2019 poll numbers that showed that 38 percent said it would be bad and 55 said it would be good.
Disclosure: Story written by Mike Pettinella, GCASA publicist.