ALBANY – Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl has said criminal justice policy in New York is now so pro-defendants that he has canceled plans to run for office at the end of his current term in December 2023,
âThey made it almost impossible for me to do my job,â Muehl said of Albany lawmakers on Monday when contacted at his Cooperstown office on Monday by CNHI. “For the first time in my life now, the criminals have the upper hand.”
Former New York State District Attorneys Association president David Soares, chief prosecutor for Albany County, said Muehl was not the only public safety advocate who believed the “criminal justice pendulum “had gone too far.
Changes to New York’s bail laws, enacted under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have restricted the ability of judges to consider public safety impacts when deciding bail issues in criminal charges.
Soares said district attorneys in the next legislative session will try to convince lawmakers to restore the authority of judges to set bail for people they believe pose a risk to local communities.
âI really think it’s going to be an uphill battle,â Soares said. But he said the recent victory of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the New York mayor’s Democratic primary sent a message that voters support policies that promote public safety.
Adams, an African American and retired New York City police officer who appeared on a public safety platform, garnered support from many black voters, Soares said.
“The black vote spoke volumes,” said Soares, a New England native of Cape Verdean descent. âPeople watch the elections to assess where the electorate is and where the electorate is: we want security. We want better police quality and we want transparency and fairness in the system. ‘they don’t want, it is this hands off police that have allowed criminals to control the streets. “
As the progressive agenda has become more and more influential at State House, Soares said: “I try to keep an open line of communication with the Assembly and share with them the experiences on the front lines” of the criminal justice system.
In a legislative hearing last week on gun violence, MP Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, defended ending the cash bond for numerous offenses and argued that police officials were misleading the public into error in asserting that the changes in the law on bail had led to the reoffending of many people. shortly after their release by the judges on their own engagement.
Walker said the re-arrest rate for violent crimes is less than half of 1%. âYet you and your constituency commanders persist in telling New Yorkers that bail reform increases violence in our communities,â Walker told New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Walker and other bail reform supporters argue that the practice of jailing people too poor to post bail is a form of pre-trial punishment and uneven application of the law.
“It is possible to maintain public safety while protecting the very sacred constitutional rights this country grants to every citizen equally and fairly.” Walker said.
A spokeswoman for the State Criminal Justice Services Division, Janine Kava, said her agency was working with the State Courts Administration Office to produce a report on law reform on bail in order to meet the January 2 deadline.
Kava said gun crime during the pandemic had increased in communities across the country “with or without bail reform laws.”
Meanwhile, Kava said, overall crime in the state “has remained near the lowest reported levels. Citing only bail reform as the reason ignores the many other factors that have occurred over the past year and so on. half, including unemployment, closures of schools and other essential programs; isolation from family, friends and support systems; and social unrest and anti-police sentiment in communities. “
Providing judges with the ability to set a cash bond based on public safety concerns is also high on the New York State Sheriff’s Association’s 2022 agenda.
Peter Kehoe, the association’s director, said his group “is working to convince lawmakers that they are going in the wrong direction” with legislation dealing with public safety.
Another recent legislative change, preventing authorities from returning parolees to prison for “technical” deviations from the conditions of their release, is now provoking opposition from the Federation of Public Employees, which represents parole officers. conditional state.
Wayne Spence, the union president, told PEF members in a message broadcast Monday that the union was preparing to hold a rally against the so-called âLess is Moreâ parole law.
“Now that it is a law, we will not stop pointing out its flaws and pushing for amendments to mitigate its damaging effects,” Spence said.
In Cooperstown, Muehl linked changes to the bail law to the fact that defendants in three separate drug prosecutions in his county could not be brought to justice because they had run away.
Muehl said he would reconsider his new early retirement plan if lawmakers worked to restore “balance” to the criminal justice system, although he said such a move would be unlikely.
âI don’t think they’re going to go back on what they did,â Muehl, 54, said. The Republican was first elected to the post in 2003 and has another 26 months of his current term. As with all district attorneys, his annual salary of $ 200,000 is set by state law.
He also expressed frustration with an evidence disclosure requirement that he and other prosecutors said could leave cooperating witnesses vulnerable to retaliation.
“When they give criminals preferential treatment over law-abiding citizens, it’s time to hang up,” the veteran prosecutor said.