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Nassau panel's report suggests changes to state's criminal justice reform law

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's initiative to provide

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's initiative to provide state lawmakers with feedback on the criminal justice reform law was sent to Albany on Friday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Judges should be allowed to consider a defendant's physical and mental condition and ties to criminal organizations before releasing them without bail and lawmakers should extend the 15-day discovery deadline to at least 90 days, according to a Nassau County report sent to Albany lawmakers Friday recommending amendments to the state's criminal justice law.

The recommendations were released as part of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's initiative to provide state lawmakers with feedback on the law, which took effect Jan. 1.

Curran, a Democrat, announced on Jan. 21 the formation of "The Common-Sense Coalition," which includes the Nassau police commissioner, leaders of the county's law enforcement unions and the sheriffs of both Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

As part of the law, individuals charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies are released without cash bail and investigators are required to provide all evidence to prosecutors and defense attorneys within a 15-day window.

“It’s about common sense, not politics. Our number one concern is the safety and security of our communities,” Curran said in a statement. “I want to thank the dedicated members of this committee, the officials in charge of public safety on Long Island, for their swift action to identify the key problems they’re seeing on the ground as well as fair and realistic solutions.”

Other suggested amendments in the six-page report from Curran's panel are:

•    Do not limit the types of crimes for which a judge can set cash bail and allow judges to exercise discretion when making bail decisions.

•    Any alternative to the imposition of bail or incarceration must be meaningful and effective. For instance, electronic monitoring should be used only with defendants for whom it can enforced.

•    Judges should be given the discretion to issue a warrant immediately when a defendant fails to appear.

•    Permit the district attorney to resolve cases by way of plea bargaining as had been the case before the reforms. The limitation on plea bargaining and the list of items included in “automatic discovery” is a burden on law enforcement entities and crime laboratories.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr., a member of Curran's panel and an outspoken critic, said he believed the reforms were "rushed and uncoordinated."

"The drafters failed to consider the complex human service needs of involved individuals, the law's effect on crime victims, and the funding to effectuate a systemic change of this magnitude," said Toulon in a statement. "We have also made it more difficult for law enforcement and the judiciary to do their part to protect public safety. I hope this report will provide the impetus to bring all stakeholders back to the table to drive the kind of reform that will truly benefit all New Yorkers."

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