Public safety and the safety of our law enforcement officers are at risk.
Effective Jan. 1, sweeping new criminal justice reforms will take effect that include the elimination of cash bail, which has existed since the 1600s, for many crimes that our town justices address daily. Accused offenders will be released within hours. While these laws are intended to make the criminal justice process more equal for low-income defendants — an admirable purpose — the practical applications of these measures, which were adopted without public input or funding, will have a tremendous adverse impact on our community.
The Southampton jail will be forced to release approximately 400 prisoners; the release of those being held will affect our downtown and communities.
They will not be given transportation or funds; where do you think they will go? Riverhead was selected as part of a pilot program for these new laws and their impacts are immense. I have spoken to our local justices, police department, the undersheriff and corrections to learn the impact of this pilot program and I am extremely disturbed as a taxpayer by their reports. This unfunded mandate will require the town to expand the hours and operation of our courts, hire more staff and law clerks, and purchase software (estimated at more than $500,000) to implement the new rules.
Drug dealers, including those who sell drugs on school properties, as well as individuals arrested for vehicular manslaughter causing loss of life, violent sexual assault, and nonviolent felonies such as house burglary or robbery will be brought to the police station, fingerprinted and released within hours! The PD or court will give them a notice to come back to the judge within 20 days. The info on the arrest must be electronically sent to the district attorney within 24 hours. Our Justice Court must remind the accused of their court date by their preferred method — text, email or phone call — five days before court in their language (that’s if they give the correct information on how to be reached). If they don’t appear, a warrant is issued by the judge. When they are picked up on the warrant, the process starts all over again. They are released with a new court date. It is not considered persistent unwillingness to appear until the second warrant and third time picked up. Under new discovery laws, the names, addresses and phone numbers of all complainants and witnesses must be given to the defense. The accused will also have the right to inspect the crime scene, which could be your home.
In speaking with our local officials, there is a alternate solution to the dilemma these reforms are intended to address: The state could create a three-judge panel (using our existing judges) who would be assigned to expedite bail review, and those judges could then quickly review and require (or not) bail that merits the crime, or assign a program that could benefit the accused. Unfortunately, the state once again pulled the trigger on this legislation without fully vetting it — all at the expense of your safety, the revitalization of our downtown and your wallet.
Call your state representatives and ask them to take a step back to better evaluate the impact of these changes on small, middle-class communities like ours.
Ms. Giglio is a Riverhead Town councilwoman.
Editor’s Note: The change in bail refers to misdemeanor charges and nonviolent felonies. Judges can still set bail for violent felonies such as aggravated sexual abuse, rape and criminal possession of a weapon, for example. The most serious charges, like murder, still require that a defendant automatically be remanded without bail.