Rensselaer County District Attorney braces for bail reform


RENSSELAER COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Starting January 1, judges will be mandated to let a number of defendants go, without bail, until trial.

That includes a person who is charged with arson in the third and fourth degrees, who makes a terroristic threat, or who promotes a sexual performance by a child. That’s why Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly is afraid of what the reforms will mean for victims.

“So, an individual comes into your home while you’re sleeping, and that person is not going to be eligible for bail,” Donnelly told NEWS10 ABC. “So they can come right back out and do that again while we’re awaiting trial.”

Donnelly said she can’t understand why the state included so many offenses in the reform, citing what she calls a “non-exhaustive list of charges” in a press release, that includes aggravated vehicular assault, tampering with a juror, and a number of other offenses.

However, she understands where the State is coming from by creating the reform in the first place.

“It’s tragic that there have been instances, particularly in New York City, where someone gets sent to Rikers Island and they don’t get brought back to court in short order,” she explained. “The purpose in reforming the bill was noble; to be sure that doesn’t happen to anybody.”

But Donnelly fears in its efforts to be fair to defendants, the reform will make victims feel unsafe.

Legal expert Arnold Proskin sees the current bail process as an integral part of criminal justice and is uneasy about the changes to come.

“Under the bail system, the judge has full control. It shouldn’t be that we’re going to let everybody out,” Proskin told NEWS10. “It just makes you shake to see the kind of potential crimes that could be coming out in a situation such as this.”

If a prosecutor can prove the defendant poses a flight risk, the judge can choose to make an exception. Some offenses still qualify for bail under the reform, including most violent crimes.

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