Buffalo's Common Council backs changes in new state bail reform measures

Jan 8, 2020

It is increasingly likely the new law barring bail for many crimes will head back into Albany's legislative process for some change, with that return trip also backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Tish James.

The law is part of a package of basic changes in criminal justice to make it more fair. The bail changes mean that most people arrested will get an appearance ticket for a return to court, rather than having bail set to ensure they come back. If they can't pay for bail, they can sit for years waiting for their case to go through the process.

In the opening days of the new law, serious problems have emerged. Judges are not allowed to set bail in some controversial cases, like hate crimes or many domestic violence cases, and the arrested person walks.

On Tuesday, Buffalo Common Council members asked for revisions of the law, while retaining the basic idea of holding hew people behind bars. Delaware District representative Joel Feroloto was a sponsor of the request.
"In the past few days, we have seen several instances where people have been arrested for crimes resulting in death and hate crimes where a judge was not able to put bail on that person and that person was released," Feroleto said. "So it's not hypotheticals. It's actually happening. So I think it's very important to look at those examples."

Judges are working with a list of crimes controlling when bail can be set and when it can't. There has been massive opposition from many elements of the criminal justice system, like many prosecutors and many police and their unions, to removing the discretion of judges to set bail.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

South District Representative Chris Scanlon said the former system wasn't fair.

"We all know that within the criminal justice system that reform needed to take place and to close some of those disparities that are taking place within the system," Scanlon said, "but I don't think it's fearmongering in any way. We're just listening to our constituents, some of the concerns that they have."

Even though the law is in its early days, many more people are back on the street with those appearance tickets. There had already been changes against bail, like Erie County District Attorney John Flynn telling his prosecutors to give the benefit of the doubt to release.

Masten District representative Ulysees Wingo praised the cooperation of councilmembers in crafting support for the law and support for changes.

"We are still not forgetting the heart and the spirit of this bill, which was to ensure that people who cannot afford bail do not have to worry about sitting in jail waiting for a hearing date because they simply cannot afford to post bail to get out."