Last Sunday morning, 40-year-old Jordan Randolph was arrested and charged with drunken driving after his 2014 Cadillac rear-ended another car on the William Floyd Parkway in Suffolk County, killing the driver. Randolph was released without bail the next day.
State Assemblyman Brian Kolb, who represents the 131st District upstate, was arrested on drunken driving charges on New Year’s Eve, and was released a few hours later.
Randolph, Kolb and dozens of other alleged lawbreakers who have been arrested and released since Jan. 1 symbolize what judges, law-enforcement officials and state legislators see as a major flaw in the new bail-reform bill that took effect that day: The state has abolished bail for what the bill’s sponsors have labeled minor crimes, without allowing judges the right to consider whether defendants who appear before them pose a threat to public safety as those judges decide whether to hold the defendants until trial. Drunken driving is not considered a violent felony.
Now, Long Island Democratic state senators are launching a drive to make major amendments to the bill, which had the full support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), the dean of the Long Island delegation, is among those leading the charge. Democrats are now in control of the State Senate and Assembly, and last year they voted for the bail-reform bill as part of what is known as “the big ugly,” the omnibus budget bill. No one wanted to be accused of shutting down the government by voting against the state budget.
Kaminsky noted that he was a federal prosecutor for 10 years. “The prosecutors I’m talking to these days don’t feel they have the tools to protect the public,” he told the Herald earlier this week. “I’m going to work as long and as hard as I can in the next few weeks to change the law.” He added that “there should be more offenses that are bail-eligible.”
The new law does away with bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felony charges, and puts limits on what judges can consider in setting bail for violent felonies. Supporters say the true impact of the law is not yet clear, since it has only been on the books for two weeks. But among the TV-watching and newspaper-reading public, there has been a clamor for reform of the bill since before it took effect, as defendants were seen walking out of jail in the days before the new year began.
Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), another leader in the battle against the law, has already introduced a new bill that would eliminate cash bail, while at the same time creating a five-member appeals board to hear challenges to any pre-trial detention ordered by a judge. And Sen. James Gaughran introduced legislation last summer that would add to the list of crimes for which bail or pre-trial detention could be imposed.
Martinez said her legislation would “allow judges to have discretion when determining whether an individual should be eligible for bail based on their offenses and potential danger to society. We cannot turn a blind eye to repeat violent offenders and those who pose a threat to our children, families and friends.”
Cuomo has indicated a willingness to discuss changes to the bill he put forward. But the Democratic Assembly speaker, Carl Heastie, is opposed to any revisions, and has said that the new law must be given a chance to work. Another Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has not expressed any desire for change, according to aides.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, said that the “most likely” outcome this year would not be a major change in the bail-reform measure, but perhaps some smaller changes, offering legislators an opportunity to study the bill and perhaps take it up at a later date.