Griffo, sheriffs speak out against criminal justice reforms

Griffo, sheriffs speak out against criminal justice reforms

(excerpt from Utica Observer-Dispatch Apr 5 2019)

UTICA — State Sen. Joseph Griffo is calling out the state for the criminal justice reforms passed in the budget this week, referring to them as a “criminal bill of rights.”

Those changes — which have been talked about heavily since Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced his budget earlier this year — include ending cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, letting those arrested for lesser crimes walk with an appearance ticket instead of detaining them, and reducing sentences for illegal immigrants who commit crimes for the sole purpose of helping them evade deportation.

The changes have been lauded by some, but Griffo believes they tie the hands of prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

“If you remember, the scales of justice need to be balanced, that’s the whole symbol of our system,” he said Friday during a news conference at the State Office Building in Utica. “I think right now, unfortunately, the concern I have — I think it’s shared by the officers and leaders behind me — is those scales are being tipped to the disadvantage of those we have charged with the responsibility of protecting our society.”

Griffo was joined Friday by Oneida County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Coluzza, Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol and Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli.

Coluzza said his concern is that discovery reform, which allows a defendant to see what will be used against them in court ahead of the court date, will weaken prosecutorial authority and could potentially jeopardize witnesses and their security.

The proposed statute requires that discovery of “basically everything” has to be turned over to the defense within 15 days of arraignment, he said.

“The problem with that is that it requires the release of victim information, witness information and contact information,” Coluzza said. “We already face a significant obstacle, and that is the reluctance of victims and witnesses to cooperate in the prosecution of cases. Having their personal information, their statements, made available to an offender, in some cases a dangerous offender, so early in the process is going to make it that much harder to get them to follow through and testify.”

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