November 27, 2021

New state bail reform statute leads to debate

County DA: ‘We’re abandoning common sense’

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said he’s so upset with who the state’s bail reform is letting out of jail without bail that he’s telling the community who those people are.

“We’re abandoning all common sense to bring about this new statute,” Perfetti said this week. “It creates a default setting for the judge to release.”

Under the law that took effect at the beginning of the year, judges can no longer set monetary bail for most misdemeanors and felonies unless they are sex-related or violent offenses, Perfetti said.

That forced the Cortland County Jail to release three men who had been held there:

• Andre Miller, 30, of Pennsylvania, who was in jail on $10,000 bail following a November 2018 arrest after a traffic stop on charges of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

• Isaac Nguyen, 29, of Florida, in jail on $20,000 bail following a June arrest and 21-count indictment on charges of forgery, money laundering and scheme to defraud.

• Zachary Gulini, 30, of Washington Street, Cortland, in jail on $250 bail since a November arrest on a charge that he failed to register as a sex offender. Gulini was a “convicted violent sex offender with a 10-year criminal history,” Perfetti said.

Perfetti said the statute will “dreadfully” affect future cases where the defendants do not have connections to the community and may flee and have to be extradited — if they’re ever found.

Perfetti will work with state legislators to modify the new reform to balance income inequality but maintain public safety, he said in a news release.

“There’s a potential for dangerous people to keep re-offending,” said Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano. “I do hope the governor and state lawmakers take a look at it and correct what’s wrong with it.”

However, Mecke Nagel, a professor of philosophy at SUNY Cortland who has researched incarceration, said this change will help bring about economic equality.

“It’s important that we not panic over the bail reform, but that it is just trying to level the playing field,” she said.

Bails, she said, tend to favor those who can afford to pay them, and it can lead to poor people taking a plea agreement, just to get out of jail because they couldn’t afford bail.

When that happens, they must live with a conviction record, which can hurt their employment prospects, she added.

“We need to give this bail reform a chance and see that people who are accused of a crime return to court,” Nagel said.