ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — With the rise in gun violence, bail reform laws have made it difficult for district attorneys to prosecute cases.
District Attorney David Soares said there are currently hundreds of open gun violence cases. The reason why? He’s having trouble getting witnesses and victims to come forward.
“This is our biggest hurdle. I want your audience to know that in this city we have children who are watching tv on the floor, in the kitchen, because sitting on the sofa in the living room there is a chance they’d get struck by a bullet,” Soares said.
Soares said bail reform laws are making what is already a difficult issue even more challenging.
“The politicians who wrote the law say, ‘Well, you can give them protective orders,” Soares said.
Due to discovery laws, witness information will be given to the defense at the beginning of the case. The district attorney said the process of getting a protective order is far different than personally promising protection to witnesses.
To try to solve this issue, Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly is turning to community engagement.
“You want to protect your home. You want to protect your community, and you don’t want to be seen as somebody who can’t be trusted amongst your community,” Donnelly said. “It’s all about trust, and we need to make sure the folks who are coming forward trust law enforcement.”
Defense attorneys told NEWS10 ABC bail reform is not an issue in getting witnesses to come forward but discovery reform could be. They added a protective order is not difficult for a prosecutor to get in order to protect a witness.
“Bail reform has nothing to do with witness information. Gun possession charges are still considered violent crimes and are bail eligible and judges have been setting bail on these cases,” defense attorney Matthew Toporowski said. “Discovery reform requires the DA to turn over information more quickly, including witness information but also made it easier for the DA to get a protective order from the judge to withhold that information. Thus, if the DA just put out accurate and clear information, he’d probably not have this problem. It’s a problem of his own making because he has fear mongered about bail reform and criminal justice reform in general.”
“I think the real issue is that we just haven’t been able to move bad guys through the criminal justice system like we normally have been able to do because of COVID,” defense attorney Lee Kindlon said. “That has nothing to do with discovery reform. And it has absolutely nothing to do with bail reform.”
Pastor Charlie Mueller was joined by Soares on Friday to help bridge the gap in trust and get guns off the street with his gun buyback program.
“One of the things that you’re going to see, which is going to be a natural consequence of the laws that were passed, is less closure on cases,” Soares said.
The Albany Gun Buyback program will be held Saturday, June 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Victory Church located at 118 Quail St. in Albany. The program gives $100 to $300 in Visa gift cards for every illegal handgun turned in. There will be no questions asked on where the gun came from, and no police will be involved.
The Albany County Sheriff will collect all guns turned in to dispose of them.