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Parts of the justice system may not be embracing bail reform measures

In advance of January 1, 2020, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is advising his prosecutors to seek special permission before requesting bail for those charged with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. At the start of the new year, New York State will no longer allow bail to be imposed in such cases. According to Ali Ingersoll of Investigative Post, some factions of the criminal justice system may not be ready to embrace the reforms.

Ingersoll recently observed a series of arraignments in Buffalo City Court.

"There were more than 40 cases on the docket. The ADA (Assistant District Attorney) did not ask for bail," Ingersoll related.

"And the judge imposed bail upon all but two (cases)."

Ingersoll says the arraignment process moves fast, with little or no explanations regarding the decision on bail. She did, however, gather comment from Craig Hannah, the chief judge at City Court.

"He basically said it's unfair to play Monday morning quarterback and to overanalyze why a judge does some thing the way they do because we're not in their shoes."

She points out how judges will need to change, effective January 1. At that time, judges will need to explain why they set bail in such cases.

According to Ingersoll, Erie County jails are currently holding 100 prisoners on bail who will need to be released by the end of the year. That number will only rise if judges continue to impose bail over the coming weeks.

"I talked to (Erie County District Attorney) John Flynn, he said he is very confident  (the affected prisoners will be released). He said he himself will bring back those cases (to court) if that person is still being held unlawfully on January 1st."

Ingersoll also spoke with the Office of Court Administration which was less confident all impacted prisoners will be freed by the start of the year. A sense of urgency, however, might be necessary.

"It's the courts and the county and the judge themselves who faces a civil lawsuit if someone is being held unlawfully on January 1st."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.