N.Y. just helped drug traffickers: Bail reform will make it impossible for prosecutors to hold members of cartels while we build the cases against them
New Yorkers will be shocked to discover that a new bail statute, passed as part of the state budget, mandates pretrial release of hundreds arrested for top narcotics crimes. Unless a defendant faces a single, seldom-charged narcotics offense, the new law requires judges to treat cartel associates the same as low-level street dealers when it comes to bail. This change arrives in the midst of an opioid epidemic, when overdoses are killing thousands of New Yorkers each year, far more than all violent crimes combined.
This legislative language represents a stunning departure from Gov. Cuomo’s original proposal — which would have allowed remand on all top narcotics offenses and factored into decisions about holding people the danger an individual posed to another, as well as the likelihood they might not return to face trial — and undermines efforts to rein in the flow of deadly drugs to our state.
Its crafters failed to consult those who have succeeded in taking heroin and fentanyl off our streets. New York City’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor has seized three tons of narcotics in the past five years, and not a single legislator called to ask about the impact of such a sweeping change.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, a judge will only be able to require bail for drug defendants only on the specific charge “Operating as a Major Trafficker,” an A-1 felony carrying a potential life sentence. In the past five years, my office charged fewer than two dozen defendants under this statute. In contrast, more than 1,000 defendants have been charged with other A-1 level felony charges that carry a maximum 20-year sentence.