Editorial: A public face on a flawed law

Skylar Crouse is a good example of the kind of person from whom the public needs to be protected

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Sometimes, logic and reason and sound arguments just aren’t enough to make people act.

Sometimes, in order to convince people that something needs to change, you need to put a human face on it.

Well, the case for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to revisit reforms to the bail system scheduled to take effect the first of the year now has one.

On Sept. 26, Skyler Crouse of Canada was racing up the Northway through the Glens Falls area at speeds of upwards of 100 mph when he ripped through the construction zone near Exit 18 and kept going, leading police on a 25-mile high-speed chase. Police attempted to stop his vehicle by employing a spike-strip, a device containing metal spikes that’s tossed into the path of a vehicle to flatten its tires. 

Crouse ran over the strip, causing one of his tires to go flat, but that didn’t stop him. He kept on going off Northway Exit 25, where he plowed into a pickup truck driven by Joseph D. Turcotte of Brant Lake. Turcotte, an innocent bystander on an errand to deliver wood, was killed on the spot.

If you watched the TV news report of Crouse’s court appearance, you’d have seen him spitting into a TV crew’s camera in defiance and rage, He later said he was “mentally insane” and jacked up on drugs during the fatal chase.

This is a stone-cold criminal who shouldn’t be among the rest of us. But had he been arrested under the new bail reforms, it’s likely that instead of being in jail right now, he would have been released and ordered to appear in court at a later date.

That’s because even though he killed someone, and even though he’s a citizen of another country with a history of blowing off court appearances, Crouse’s crimes are considered nonviolent under state law. And because of that, he would have been released without bail.

You can guess what a person is going to do given that opportunity, and it’s not likely to be dutifully showing up at the prescribed time and place to be locked away for the next 25 years.

Crouse’s case illustrates what law enforcement officials and some government officials have been arguing for months about the law. It’s that a lot of dangerous people — despite their criminal backgrounds and history of not showing up for court appearances — will be turned loose instead of being held in jail awaiting trial.

Crouse probably isn’t even the most dangerous person who would have been let go on an appearance ticket after the new law takes effect. But he’s a good example of the kind of person from whom the public needs to be protected.

We argued in this space in August that the new law, hastily passed as part of the state budget process, was flawed in the criminals’ favor. 

Many of those charged with drug crimes and burglaries and in motor vehicle accidents like this one would be exempt from the bail requirement. We argued the new law didn’t give judges discretion to hold dangerous people in custody, and we agreed with Albany County District Attorney David Soares that the law does more to handcuff law enforcement than it does criminals.

We’re all in favor of reasonable bail reform so that people aren’t kept in jail for minor crimes over their inability to post even modest bail. There are numerous examples of people, particularly the indigent and minorities, who’ve been kept in jail for months or years for crimes as benign as shoplifting.

But this law doesn’t take into consideration the real-world impacts of who might slip through the net.

Among those pushing for state lawmakers and the governor to halt implementation of the law until amendments can be made is Republican Assemblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury. Stec says lawmakers failed to listen to the concerns of the entire law enforcement community — district attorneys, police, corrections, probation and the judiciary — and went “way too far” in coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t really exist much outside of New York City. 

“Specific to bail reforms, they drew the line in the wrong place,” he wrote in response to his calls for revisions to the law.

Stec said while state lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Albany until after the law takes effect, he said Cuomo could take executive action to halt the law or call lawmakers back to Albany for a special session to address the problems with it. One of those two things needs to happen.

One can support bail reform without flinging open the jail gates to potentially dangerous individuals like drug dealers, bail jumpers, burglars and drugged-out drivers who kill innocent bystanders.

If logic and sound reasoning won’t convince lawmakers and the governor to revisit this legislation, maybe having a person like Skyler Crouse back on the streets will.

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