Do legislators — including the head of the state Assembly — actually know what’s in the “no bail” criminal justice law? An interaction I had on social media this week suggests no.
On Wednesday, I tweeted out a Post news story on the arrest of six Bronx men accused of being part of a $7 million fentanyl-trafficking ring and released without bail under the new law. When arrested, they were allegedly in possession of hundreds of thousands of the glassine envelopes containing a white powder.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted a reply, asking if I knew that the “judge used his/her discretion to let them go without restrictions.”
He added: “This is a felony and the judge could have given stricter Pretrial restrictions including curfew, home detention and electronic monitoring. Please read the law and understand judicial options.”
Well, I have read the law. I keep a copy on my computer for easy reference. I told the speaker so, adding that “Judges have a narrow discretion. They must opt for the least restrictive pretrial condition.”
Also, I noted, the progressive Vera Institute approvingly said the new law “remove[s] or severely restrict[s] the discretion law enforcement, prosecutors and judges have traditionally enjoyed in the criminal justice system.”
But Heastie was still looking for an out. He tweeted back that, given the large amount of drugs, the men might’ve been charged under the “kingpin” statute as major traffickers.
The speaker’s tweets revealed a loose grasp of the facts of the law he champions. And he was just plain wrong regarding the extent of discretion under the new law and the major-trafficker statute.
These defendants were ordered to surrender their passports and submit to Tier 1 supervised release. The judge rejected the special narcotics prosecutor’s additional request for travel restrictions, electronic monitoring and Tier 2, Level 5 supervised release — because the law specifically requires the least restrictive pretrial conditions practical in any case.
Law enforcement officials saw this coming. Last April, Bridget Brennan, the city’s special narcotics prosecutor, wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Heastie asking them to “restore all A-level narcotics offenses as eligible for detention or bail.” She explained that, due to the imperative of “removing large stashes of dangerous drugs, we cannot wait until we have sufficient evidence for every element required by” the major-trafficker statute.
But the state Legislature didn’t listen. An exception wasn’t made, and these six accused traffickers are back on the street.
I believe that, like many New Yorkers on both sides of the issue, Speaker Heastie sincerely wants the bail law to work. But unless he acts to close that loophole and other flaws in the bail law, other dangerous drug traffickers will likely remain free while awaiting trial.
My question to him and others is: How much time do we have to give the new laws before admitting that its flaws do harm?
Michael Benjamin is a former state assemblyman and a member of The Post’s editorial board.
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