UTICA, NY - Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to eliminate cash bail for certain types of crime, but some local authorities believe it would create even more problems.
"One of the biggest charges that we have in this county and many other counties that have the Thruway running through it, or other major interstates, is driving with your license suspended," said Scott McNamara, Oneida County District Attorney. "I really don't think that's what they intend to do is to charge people with driving without a license, suspended without bail, pending a trial. But now we're going to get rid of cash bail so we have no way of keeping that person or connected to that court, so to say, or come back to the court."
The governor's plan would do away with cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Cuomo said cash bail discriminates against people who cannot afford it.
Herkimer County Sheriff Chris Farber said eliminating cash bail could have a positive impact on many jails.
"We have quite a few people in our jail pending trial or court action that are on bail," Farber said. "Sometimes it's not a lot of bail. I see it and other sheriffs see it, as dropping population in the jails."
Farber said there is a possibility of someone fleeing the area and not reporting for their court date.
"If they don't appear in court they're going to come to jail, because there will be a warrant issued for them," he said.
McNamara said Oneida County doesn't have have an overpopulation of inmates.
"It's disingenuous - the argument that the jails are full - it just isn't true. at least not in Oneida County," he said. "When I was the president of the DA's association I requested a compete survey of the whole state. Not every DA's office could expend the time and energy to do it. But the ones that did, we did not see this overwhelming population of inmates being held for substantial periods of time on low-level crimes with low bail. Everybody in Oneida County that was in jail belonged in jail."
McNamara said advocates for bail reform use information that doesn't consider what the person is being held on instead of the crime they were arrested for.
"Sometimes people get arrested on a misdemeanor, but they're actually not being held on the misdemeanor. They're being held on a parole violation," he said. "People show up in on bail on a low-level or on a non-violent crime, when in reality they're in jail because they violated the terms of their drug court conditions."
McNamara added that some people steal for a living. He said he believes ending cash bail would make the state open to more criminal activity.
"It's going to make New York State a target for certain criminal activity by out of state," he said. "When people say 'oh that won't happen'... there's a picture of a man right outside my hall that died getting a group of people who came to this area to rob a jewelry store, that's what they did. So it happens all the time."
McNamara referred to Joseph Corr, a New Hartford Police officer who was shot and killed on Feb. 27, 2006 as he chased a jewelry store robbery suspect into a wooded area off Route 5 in the town of Kirkland.
But McNamara said there are already other options in place that could be used instead of ending the cash bail system.
"There are other things a judge can do that they don't do," he said. "One of them is they make the person sign what's called a signature bond, which means no money exchanges hands, no insurance, or bail bondsman is involved, basically the person signs a note and says 'if I don't show up then I will owe the court $500 bail.'' So basically instead of putting the money upfront they would lose the money at the end, to me that would be very powerful."
The bail proposal still needs to be voted on in the state legislature.
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