QUEENSBURY — State Assemblyman Dan Stec called Monday for the state to halt the implementation of new bail laws that will result in more accused criminals being released from jail before trial.
Pointing to safety concerns and the possibility that people accused of serious crimes may not return to face court dates, the Republican legislator from Queensbury said he believes the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo should see that action is taken to either stay or repeal the controversial law changes.
Law enforcement officials from around the region and state have been sounding alarms about the impact of the bail changes and new requirements placed on police and prosecutors in criminal and traffic cases. The bail changes will do away with cash bail for many criminal charges, resulting in more criminals being released from custody before trial.
Stec and state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, both said they voted against the plan and has been hearing law enforcement concerns about the law since it was passed in April. But Stec said last week’s manslaughter case that involved a Canadian man accused of killing a Horicon resident in a car crash underscored for him how problematic the changes will be.
The suspect, Skyler B. Crouse of Akwesasne, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, first-degree reckless endangerment and other crimes for a 25-mile high speed chase that ended Thursday morning when he crashed the pickup truck he was driving into another on the Northway Exit 25 off-ramp.
The crash killed Joseph D. Turcotte, a beloved 38-year-old Horicon resident and town Planning Board member who was on his way back to Brant Lake after picking up a load of lumber in Lake George.
Crouse’s crimes are considered nonviolent under state law, which would result in his release from jail without bail come Jan. 1, even though he is a Canadian citizen with a lengthy history of not appearing for court during prior cases in New York.
Stec called that “absolutely unacceptable” and a public safety concern.
“What do you think is going to happen when he is released? He is going to go north of the border and never be seen again,” Stec predicted.
He said the changes weren’t well thought-out, as they were tacked on the 2019-20 budget bill instead of being put up for discussion by both houses of the Legislature and agencies that would be affected.
Little said she was hopeful that enough of an outcry will develop for amendments will be made to the law.
“I think the implications for this are pretty significant,” Little said.
The changes stemmed from outcry over a case in New York City, where a teenage inmate accused of theft committed suicide after spending three years in the Riker’s Island Jail awaiting disposition of his case.
“Because they had a problem in New York City, the whole criminal justice system for the state was changed,” Stec said. “Things like this should never be in the budget in the first place. This is something that should have been its own standalone bill so it could be debated.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry for comment Monday.
The state Legislature is not scheduled to be in session the rest of the year, but Cuomo could take executive action or call lawmakers back to session.
Crouse is being held in Warren County Jail, pending further court action.
The criminal justice reform bills also require prosecutors to turn over evidence in all cases within 15 days of an arrest, drastically changing the timetable and forcing counties to hire more personnel to deal with the added work.
Don Lehman covers police and court matters and Warren County government. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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