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New York Senate leader sees no delay on criminal justice changes

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (File photo/Charles Eckert)

BY RYAN TARINELLI

New York’s Senate majority leader has thrown cold water on a push to delay criminal justice reforms.

Changes passed by lawmakers earlier this year eliminate pretrial detention and money bail for the wide majority of misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. The move is expected to curtail the number of people held in jail while awaiting trial.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said Monday that it makes no sense for a person accused of a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor charge to be locked up for years without having been convicted.

“And why? Because there were a few hundred dollars that your family couldn’t come up with,” she said.

The changes will go into effect at the start of the new year, but criticism from prosecutors and law enforcement officials has grown louder as the Jan. 1 implementation date nears.

The objections have largely centered on changes to the state’s bail law and the legal process known as discovery. Under the new discovery law, prosecutors will be required to turn over discovery information within 15 days after an arraignment. The prosecution can be allowed another 30 days in some cases.

Some law enforcement officials argue the bail law will jeopardize public safety and the discovery reforms will prevent witnesses from cooperating with the police.

Some lawmakers have proposed legislation amending the criminal justice reforms or delaying their implementation.

Republican state Sen. Sue Serino said last month that lawmakers rushed to reform and “failed to consider the very real danger that these sweeping changes will have on communities.”

But Stewart-Cousins said there’s not strong support for cutting back on the reforms among Senate Democrats. “For the conference as a whole, absolutely not,” she said.

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