BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York State’s budget is almost a month overdue and one reason for the delay is the state’s controversial bail reform law. Law enforcement in Western New York says judge discretion is critical to maintaining balance in the legal system.
“We are really returning jurisdiction to the judges and discretion, which they always had until this bail reform,” Hon. Penny Wolfgang, a former New York State Supreme Court Justice, said.
Gov. Hochul announced the legislature has reached a conceptual agreement on the budget, which includes giving judges the ability to set bail and removing a key phrase in the current bail reform law that prohibits them from doing so now.
“By taking that out, their going to get way more discretion now and they are going to have the ability now to keep us safe. Remember this is only going to affect the violent felony offenses,” John Flynn, Erie County District Attorney, said.
“It’s a balancing act. Perhaps the pendulum tilted a little too far on releasing some individuals. I’d say 80% of the bail reform act is working well, but there were some instances where it needed to be tweaked,” Barry Covert, criminal defense attorney, added.
Local law enforcement says this will keep communities safer, which should be the goal of the legal system.
“Bail was never meant to be a punishment for people,” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia told News 4. “It’s to keep those that are very violent and are a danger to the community.”
Former Judge Wolfgang served as a state supreme court justice for decades and says judges should be able to decide bail because it is their job to be fair and maintain order.
“I know that we were using our discretion to think ‘Well this person is not a danger to society. They deserve to be out. They are presumed innocent’ whereas this person has stolen a car every day in the last month and we’ve just had this revolving door system of letting this person go, which is not good for society,” Wolfgang added.
It is unclear when this budget will pass and these changes will go into effect. News 4 is expecting the legislature to vote on it next week.
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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.