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Officials endorse hold on bail laws

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday endorsed a one-year moratorium on the state’s new bail and discovery reform laws due to go into effect Jan. 1.

“It seems to have a number of negatives,” said county Administrative Officer Jon Stead.

Stead said that on the board’s committee level, the reform laws are not popular.

“The Public Safety Committee had some genuine concerns about it,” he said.

Action by the board would follow proposed Senate Bill No. S.6853 in calling for a moratorium.

The board passed a resolution at the County Office Building opposing the laws, which were the subject of a recent town meeting at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The laws aren’t popular with local police and prosecutors either.

“These bail and discovery reform laws, in their current form, represent a clear and present danger to society, will tilt the scales of justice in favor of suspected criminals and away from innocent crime victims, and risk reversing decades of bipartisan progress made by the state of New York in reducing crime,” the resolution said.

The state Legislature in April passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law, criminal justice reforms. Bail reform eliminates cash bail and pretrial detention for nearly all misdemeanor and non-violent felony defendants. Discovery reform establishes specific timeframes for the sharing of evidence between the prosecution and defense during the pretrial period. Prosecutors must turn over discovery to defense within 15 days.

Monday’s resolution calls for a one-year moratorium on implementation of the laws. The moratorium, supervisors said, would “protect the rights and safety of crime victims and ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system by providing additional time for advisement from the law enforcement community.”

Supervisors noted that in the final stages of adopting its 2020 budget, the state enacted “sweeping criminal justice reforms,” including elimination of cash bail for specific crimes and implementation of stringent discovery mandates.

Some of the crimes for which bail will no longer be an option are: making a terroristic threat, possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child, money laundering in support of terrorism, failure to register as a sex offender, promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child, third-degree assault, patronizing a person for prostitution in a school zone, aggravated assault upon a person less than 11, reckless assault of a child by a daycare provider, criminal sale of a controlled substance to a child, abandonment of a child, criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, female genital mutilation, second-degree stalking, aggravated harassment; endangering welfare of elderly person/incompetent/physically disabled person; aggravated cruelty to animals, torturing and injuring animals; aggravated vehicular assault, burglary of a residence, bail jumping and unlawfully fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle.

The board felt discovery reform will result in an opportunity for defendants to gain access to crime scenes that may include a victim’s residence. The board also felt victims will be impacted such that they will be further victimized.

Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Gregory Young said Monday’s resolution “ultimately captures a lot of the concerns.”

Young called reforms a “good thing,” but added: “Any change is difficult.”

Stead said the “consensus of law enforcement” is that reform is needed, but police draw the line at bail reforms that don’t impose bail on certain suspects.

He noted that state Sen. James Tedisco and state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara were looking at “additional reform legislation.”

The proposals Stead alluded to was an announcement of new bi-partisan criminal justice reform legislation that strikes a balance on providing bail reform while allowing greater judicial discretion. The Tedisco/Santabarbara bill (S.6861/Assembly Bill # pending) allows the courts to make an appropriate risk assessment based on a defendant’s prior felony conviction(s), a failure to make a court appearance, or a subsequent arrest while awaiting a preliminary hearing or trial.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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