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Laura Curran announces push for 'common sense' changes to bail law

On Tuesday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced a coalition to make recommendations to amend New York State's new criminal justice laws, specifically bail. Newsday reporter Candice Ferrette has the report. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Tuesday announced a new coalition that will make "common sense" recommendations to amend new criminal justice laws that took effect in New York on Jan. 1.

The group will include county Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, leaders of each of the county's law enforcement unions and the Nassau and Suffolk County sheriffs. 

Curran, a Democrat, said she supports criminal justice reform but the recent changes to state law need to be scaled back. The coalition's recommendations to state officials are expected to be ready as early as this week, Curran said.

"What we've seen is too much all at once," Curran said.

"We are here today as a coalition dedicated to letting our representatives in Albany know what we are seeing here on the ground, and how we believe this can be improved."

The new criminal justice laws eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felony charges and mandate an expedited timeline for investigators and prosecutors to share pre-trial discovery evidence with defense counsel. 

Backers of the changes maintained the old cash bail system  meant more low-income defendants were incarcerated because they couldn't post cash or bond bail set by a judge.

Curran and other officials say the new bail law doesn't allow judges to decide whether individual defendants pose a public safety risk when released into the community while awaiting trial. 

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon said the state law could put crime victims back in harm's way. He also said defendants with substance abuse problems who otherwise would be treated while incarcerated will no longer receive treatment and could possibly re-offend to satisfy their addiction.

"We must do something. We must stand together and we must amend this legislation," Toulon said. 

Curran said she was in communication with state lawmakers as early as last year and again after the changes began to be implemented on how the new laws would negatively impact the county's progress on reducing the number of opioid overdoses.

Nassau and Suffolk counties have allocated a total of more than $10 million in their 2020 budgets to put the new laws in place.

Ryder said weeks ago he expected more than 40% of the defendants released under the new law to return to jail.

"The problem now is that buyer who gets arrested does not get in front of that diversion judge," Ryder said, referring to a judge who assigns drug defendants to treatment. "And that dealer who sells the drugs to our kids is going to be walking right out with an appearance ticket and not getting in front of that judge, who is not seeing his past history of the crimes he committed."

Ryder also said police struggle with making the new 15-day deadline to gather and turn over evidence as required by the law's new discovery rules. Police overtime is expected to rise as a result, Ryder said. 

Nassau County Superior Officers Association president Kevin Black and Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott, who have vocally opposed the state laws for more than a year, said the new discovery law does not give enough time for crimes to be prosecuted correctly. 

"I'm glad that everyone here is in agreement that the law goes too far in one direction," McDermott said. 

Republican lawmakers in the majority on the Nassau County Legislature were not at Curran's announcement. Many of them had warned about problems caused by the law before its passage, advocating for its repeal as early as last spring.

“While forming this group is a move in the right direction, the problems that law enforcement is facing in protecting public safety are urgent," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "Our state should have had these conversations and recommendations before this ill-conceived legislation passed. Our Democratic state representatives who all voted for this dangerous measure should repeal it immediately and find a bi-partisan solution to keep our communities safe.”