Bail reform: Discovery, mental health evaluation, repeat offenses, and missed court appearances

NY Capitol News

UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR) — In January 2020, New York ended its cash bail system on the grounds that it heightened inequality between the rich and poor, incarcerating those who could not make bail while letting the well-heeled go free. The bail reform statute let most get released once charged. Except in cases of violent crimes where dangerous individuals are remanded, most are only briefly detained, given a court date, and released.

Oneia County district attorney Scott McNamara identifies the number of no-shows as one of the major problems with the reform. “The number of no-shows is astronomical,” McNamara said.

“There’s just nobody showing up to court. Then, what’s happening in the city courts is that a lot of the people are showing up, but they’re continuing to get different charges, so it’s not uncommon for us to have four, five, sometimes eight, ten cases on one defendant, because that person has been out and continues to commit crime.”

The issues of skipping court and repeat offenders are accompanied by the concern of mental health. Under the reform statute, the court cannot evaluate suspects for mental illness. The suspect must be in court custody, but the reform makes it so that the court releases suspects on an appearance ticket.

“The way the statute’s set up, we can’t even hold that person to get them evaluated,” McNamara stated. “It’s very dangerous for the victims in cases where we’re talking about people that are seriously mentally ill that are only committing violation type of offenses which is very common. They commit nuisance-type crimes, but they are very mentally ill, and they need to be evaluated. They need to be committed to a state hospital for treatment, and we can’t do that now the way the statute is.”

McNamara is not alone in his concerns. Sen. Joseph Griffo expressed similar sentiments when he said, “This has been a failed policy. It is a wrong policy. It’s bail changes, not reform, these are not reforms. What you do have now is, many of these instances, and the indicators in a rise in crime, are attributed to this policy. So, this is a problem policy that needs to be addressed and fixed.”

Griffo expanded upon McNamara’s concerns. He said the discovery aspect of the bail reform is equally as concerning as the issues of mental health, repeat offenders, and missed court appearances.

Discovery refers to the section of the reform that states witnesses are not protected by law enforcement should they step forward and offer any information. The suspect in question for the crime the witness saw can get access to the witness’ information.

“Those were changes made, too, that really now have made it less likely for witnesses to come forward, and as a result, difficult to put people to face consequences for their criminal activity,” Griffo said.

There is no expected timeline for further reform, but Griffo, along with McNamara, hopes it will happen soon.

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