Local town, village and county courts, police agencies and the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office have been preparing for months. Over the past several weeks, the planning has intensified as all agencies have been briefed for the changes taking effect on January 1st, 2020.
For several years, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had spoken out in favor of massive changes in the way police, courts and prosecutors have handled defendants. New York jails and prisons, especially in downstate and New York City, were often filled to capacity or beyond.
Slowly, the Governor forced the closure of several prison facilities across the State. The Governor’s break-out moves, however, came after New York State voters assured the State Assembly and State Senate were in strong Democrat control after last year’s elections.
Without any opposition, Governor Cuomo pushed through drastic changes. He initially had the State Police stop providing ‘mug shots’ to media on defendant arrests.
The thought behind this move was that a defendant was considered innocent until proven guilty. State Police could still give out the details of the arrest, just not the mug shots.
The Governor along with the State Assembly and Senate backers also cited the use of both printed and on-line media using mug shots as a form of extortion from those arrested. Defendants could have their mug shot eliminated, or taken down for a price.
Then, slowly, State Police policies began to change in anticipation of the January 1, 2020 changes. More people arrested on various crimes were simply released on appearance tickets, rather than appear before a local judge for bail and possible incarceration.
The Bail Reform part of the legislation eliminates bail on all but the most severe crimes. The reasoning behind the Bail Reform acts is a result of too many defendants unable to make set bails before their appearances in courts, mostly in downstate facilities. Bail was set to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court.
The new laws will basically leave county jails empty, according to Wayne County District Attorney Mike Calarco. Under the new ‘Bail Reform’, appearance tickets will be required for most warrantless arrests, with some exceptions.
Police have been instructed to make arrests on violent felony offenses, felony sex offenses, felony drug arrests and economic felonies, but only after conferring with the District Attorney’s office.
All major misdemeanors will no longer garner a defendant a trip before a judge and possible incarceration. They will be issued an appearance ticket. This includes such crimes as Driving While Intoxicated, Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test and Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs (DWAI). An arresting officer cannot arrest a person for DWAI until lab results are completed.
Calarco listed a number of qualifying offenses that could be arraigned, but would likely be released, including felonies, except drug offenses; violent felonies, except burglary second, robbery second, witness intimidation or tampering, sex offenses, including incest, conspiracy second where the underlying crime is a homicide, and terrorism cases.
Also, police will be required, by law, to provide a long discovery checklist to the courts and defendant’s law representative, even in the cases involving traffic violations. Appearance tickets must be returnable for court dates within 20 days of issue.
The new laws also dictate all information to the courts and defendants and their legal representatives must be readily available, including items of ‘discovery’(any and all information and evidence relating to the case).
Sheriff Virts indicated that, since the time under former District Attorney Rick Healy, defendants and their legal counsel have had full access to all items under discovery.
Calarco added that this allows the defendants and their representation to know what the prosecution has before court appearances. This opened the doors to possible plea bargaining.
This has not been the policy in many counties and led to the new laws and regulations being put in place.
Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts stated that, as of Thursday, there were 62 inmates in the Wayne County jail, far fewer than in the past, before the new state reforms began. Of those 62, twelve more are expected to be released in December, due to the new regulations.
Both Virts and Calarco stated that Wayne County, with its successful Pre-Trail Release program, had already addressed many of the concerns the State has with incarcerated individuals.
Since 1979, Wayne Pre-Trial Services has provided supportive counseling, case-management and court-based assessment and monitoring services. Working with the courts and law enforcement, defendants incarcerated on bail could be released under strict rules. Pre-Trial also worked with individuals by helping them to address issues such as contact with the criminal justice system, lack of safe and stable housing, and educational needs.
Wayne Pre-Trial Services is a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit agency. They are supported with funds and grants from Wayne County, The Wayne County Department of Aging and Youth, The United Way of Wayne County and New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives.
The agency has been credited with saving the County millions of dollars in jail costs and allowing defendants to continue with their daily lives.
Unfortunately, the Wayne County Pre-Trail program is not available in many counties, or in the downstate and New York City areas. There, inmates incarcerated on bail often had long waits behind bars until their case is heard in court.
Sheriff Virts said the new regulations will require his road patrol sergeants to push paperwork, instead of teaching, patrolling and supervision of deputies under their command.
Virts added that cutbacks in the jail from a decreased inmate population will result in no layoffs of corrections officers. Five current corrections officers are eligible to take the February course to become road deputies and one current corrections officer is eligible for retirement.
Overall, DA Calarco said the new rules is making everyone in the chain of law enforcement and prosecution rethink when and how arrest are made. He added that more defendants will be referred to Wayne County grand juries for indictments, before they can actually be arrested.
Wayne County Public Defender Andrew Correia said the changes are way overdue. “There are a lot of wrinkles to it that have to be worked out. We are addressing our IT (Information Technology) needs on an ongoing basis.”
Correia also felt the vast majority of those released on appearance tickets will show up for their court appearances. He also stated there would be fewer appearances in centralized arraignment under the new rules. “It remains to be seen.”