Criminal justice reform is a hot topic. From voices on the street to the New York State Legislature and its startling changes part of this past session to the US Supreme Court and its landmark in Timbs v Indiana to the federal first Step Act of 2018, there have been seismic changes in the criminal justice landscape.
What are the main changes? Cashless and reduced bails. Shorter periods for prosecution to share evidence (“discovery”) and regulation on asset forfeiture (aState’s seizure of property suspected of having been involved in criminal activity without charging the owner of a crime.)
Criminal prosecution is a balancing act. It balances the need for public safety with civil liberty. We don’t need a “cut them loose DA” but we don’t want a DA who’s a “bean counting bounty hunter,” either. After all, fully the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, fully half of our Bill of Rights, address the rights of people in criminal prosecution.
Balance. Proposals for reforms must be balanced. Has the New York State Senate acted extreme? Bail should never be punitive but it serves a purpose. Cashless bail seems excessive. Why not just a policy of lower bail? Are the new rules accelerating discovery unrealistic? Perhaps. While it is wrong to delay the defendant the tools to timely move his case, and already overworked prosecutors office needs realistic time to prepare the materials. When it comes to asset forfeiture, I am in favor of raining it in. It’s a menace to civil liberties, to double jeopardy protection and to eighth amendment protection against excessive punishment disproportionate to a given crime.