One-party rule has removed the political checks and balances that previously existed in state government. The formerly Republican-controlled state Senate is now dominated by liberal Democrats who ran on a platform of criminal justice “reform.” They along with the Governor and majority members of the Assembly are putting forth measures that are focused on protecting the rights of criminals. When living in New York, one might expect a few of these measures to come up every year, but considering the breadth and number of these initiatives being brought forth this year, it is truly making 2019 the Year of the Criminal. The following are some of the most noteworthy measures.
- Elimination of Cash Bail. While some reform was needed, as is typical in Albany, this so-called reform went too far and completely removed judges’ discretion to set bail in cases where defendants who committed serious crimes are considered a flight risk. Under the new law, the vast majority, approximately 90%, of cases where people are charged will remain out of jail before their trial. This became law when it was included in this year’s budget and takes effect Jan. 2020.
- Prohibition on Arrest. Also included in this year’s budget were provisions that prohibited arrests for certain crimes. For any crime involving an E felony or less with certain exceptions, law enforcement is now required to issue an appearance ticket as opposed to arresting and booking the accused. In addition, the criminal court is required to follow up with the accused as to when his or her appearance date is.
- Allowing Parolees to Vote. While not in 2019, at the end of last year, the Governor issued an executive order to allow all parolees the right to vote. This includes sexual predators deemed too dangerous to be returned to the community and who are subject to civil confinement.
- Allowing Convicted Felons to Serve as Jurors. This bill which passed the Senate this year and is moving in the Assembly would remove the lifetime ban of individuals who were previously convicted of a felony from serving on a jury.
- Automatic Parole for those 55 years of Age who have Served 15 Years Regardless of their Crime. This bill allows inmates who are 55 years of age or older and have served at least 15 years of their prison sentence to be automatically eligible for early release on parole, even if the inmate has not served the minimum sentence imposed and regardless of the crime they have committed. Fortunately, this bill which was introduced this year has not, so far, moved in either house.
- Require the Department of Corrections to obtain Birth Certificates and Social Security Cards for Inmates. This bill, which is moving in the Assembly, would require the Department of Corrections to make diligent efforts to obtain a copy of the birth certificate or certification of birth and social security card for each inmate in DOC’s custody to be provided to the inmate upon his/her release at no cost to the inmate. This bill is moving in the Assembly.
- Requires Conditional Offer of Employment Prior to Conviction Inquiry. This law, which passed the Assembly in 2018 and is moving in the Assembly this year, makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a prospective employer to inquire about an ex-offender’s criminal conviction unless the employer first makes a conditional offer of employment.
- Reduced Class A Misdemeanor Sentencing from 365 to 364 days. Federal law mandates that any illegal immigrant convicted of a crime punishable by a sentence of a year or more be deported. By making the sentence less than 365 days (or in other words less than a year), the illegal alien who committed the crime could no longer be deported. This bill became law when it was included as part of this year’s state budget.
- Computer Tablets to Inmates. This was an arrangement between the Department of Corrections and a vendor called JPay where approximately 50,000 inmates in state correctional facilities were provided computer tablets.
- Prevents Mugshots From Being Released. Under this law, only under specific circumstance, is law enforcement allowed to release booking information such as photographs and mugshots. This provision was included in this year’s budget bill.
- The Repeal of License Suspension Requirement. This bill, which also was included in this year’s budget, repeals the law that required a mandatory six-month suspension of a driver’s license for non-driving-related drug crimes, even though, in the past, judges had the discretion to allow driving where it was shown that such suspension would cause hardship.
These measures are far from a totality of all the criminal justice initiatives that have either become law this year or have been introduced in the legislature. Most agree that government should not arbitrarily place barriers in the way of criminals particularly as they attempt to reintegrate into society. That being said, it also should be remembered that if people commit crimes, they need to be held responsible for their actions. Ultimately, with any criminal justice reform there needs to be acknowledgment of the victims of the crime, protection of the public, and then lastly some tie-in to help reform the criminal. Sadly, too many of the criminal justice reforms introduced and passed this year solely focus on assisting the criminal.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.