Oswego County Legislature's Public Safety Committee Advances Resolution Urging State to Delay Implementing Criminal Justice Reform

OSWEGO - The Oswego County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee today advanced a resolution for the County Legislature to consider asking the state of New York to immediately amend or delay implementing bail and discovery reform laws that are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

“Under bail reform adopted by the State of New York during the final stages of approving the 2020 budget, judges will be stripped of their discretion to set bail for many horrendous crimes, regardless of the strength of the case against these defendants or the extent of harm caused to innocent victims,” said Chairman of the Legislature James Weatherup, District 9, Central Square. “This means those suspected of making terroristic threats, burglary, physical violence -- and many other serious crimes -- can no longer be held in jail after their arrest. Instead, these defendants will be released back into the general public. If the law is made effective on Jan. 1 as expected, it will endanger the lives of people across New York State.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Terry Wilbur, District 21, Hannibal, said the law needs to be amended as soon as possible. Senator Patty Ritchie (48th District), Assemblyman Will Barclay, Pulaski (120th District), Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes, and Sheriff Don Hilton all voiced support for the resolution and expressed concern about the current law.  The County Legislature is expected to adopt the local resolution at its Dec. 12 meeting.

“Clearly, the state has gone too far,” said Public Safety Committee Chairman Wilbur. “I am looking at this issue from a public safety standpoint and in listening to the DA, the Sheriff, and the deputies, very little of the state’s recent changes to the criminal justice law make sense. I am honestly concerned for victims and the public at large. Where is the justice for victims when defendants who have been charged with any number of crimes--  including manslaughter, for example, or assault in the third degree -- can just be free so easily after being charged?”

“Criminal justice reforms passed as part of the most recent state budget do more to protect criminals than they do to protect the rights and safety of people across our state,” said Senator Ritchie. “I opposed these reforms from the start, and currently co-sponsor legislation that would stop them from being implemented. I applaud Oswego County for speaking out against these changes and am hopeful that in the future, a better, more comprehensive and more thoroughly researched criminal justice plan that puts the rights of law-abiding citizens first will be put forth.”

"Rather than being called criminal justice reforms, the measures passed last session instead should be labeled ‘get out of jail for free’ reforms,” said Assemblyman Will Barclay. “They lack any balance and jeopardize the safety of our community.  I am pleased that law enforcement statewide has recognized the danger if these measures go into effect on January 1st and, at the very least, I strongly support efforts to delay their implementation. We should listen to those on the front lines like the Oswego County Sheriff and District Attorney and I thank District Attorney Oakes, Sheriff Hilton and the Oswego County Legislature for expressing their opposition to these ill-conceived measures."

The Oswego County resolution specifies that New York State enacted “sweeping and ill-conceived criminal justice reforms” without considering potential unintended and harmful consequences such as eliminating cash bail for specific crimes and imposing stringent discovery mandates on police and prosecutors. The new mandates are expected to cost the county more than $1 million.

The local resolution also identifies the many serious crimes that result in the immediate release of individuals “who have displayed a propensity to evade the law.” Examples are subcategories of homicide and manslaughter, making a terroristic threat, money-laundering in support of terrorism, promoting or possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child, failure to register as a sex offender, aggravated assault on a person less than age 11, female genital mutilation, endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person, and burglary.

“While some reform was needed, the new laws are an over correction that fundamentally shift the system in favor of defendants at the expense of victims and public safety,” said Gregory Oakes, Oswego County District Attorney. “The law imposes unrealistic requirements that police and prosecutors simply cannot meet for every case.  Last year, the District Attorney’s Office handled 3,000 separate criminal cases and more than 15,000 traffic tickets. Even with new personnel, we cannot provide full and complete discovery for every case within 15 days.  The Governor and State Legislature need to delay implementation and amend the law to be reasonable and realistic.”

Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton said the new discovery requirements “will make it impossible to successfully prosecute cases involving any investigation requiring forensic analysis. Tests results  which typically take six months  will be required within 15 days. The result will be the dismissal of some very serious charges.”

The County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee oversees the District Attorney’s Office, E-911 Department, Emergency Management Office, Fire Coordinator’s Office, Probation Department and Sheriff’s Office. In addition to Legislator Wilbur, members of the Public Safety Committee include committee vice chairman Bradley Trudell, District 7, Mexico; Frank Castiglia Jr., District 25, Fulton; Mary Ellen Chesbro, District 10, Pennellville; Margaret Kastler, District 1, Sandy Creek; Richard Kline, District 12, Schroeppel; and Milferd Potter, District 2, Richland.

The resolution also requests counties across the state to urge their state representatives to take immediate action. Copies of the resolution will be distributed to all members of the State Legislature, Governor Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, federal representatives, and members of several statewide public safety, law enforcement and judicial organizations.