Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon is calling on legislators to return the discretion to set bail on certain crimes to the arraigning judges. He pointed to the inconsistencies in the new criminal procedure laws which went into effect January 1.
“It should be a judge’s discretion to set bail,” Toulon said, for several crimes currently not covered by the new law. For example, an assault as a misdemeanor charge is not eligible to have bail set, with police now releasing defendants with a desk appearance ticket, except in cases where an order of protection is requested by the victim.
Toulon believes that a judge, when considering such a charge, should be able to look at the defendant’s history. Does the defendant have a record? Is the person a recidivist?
The sheriff listed some of the more egregious crimes over which he believes a judge should have some bail discretion: promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child, aggravated assault upon a person less than 11 years old, and criminally negligent homicide are just three he cited.
Toulon sees the county jail as sometimes being the one place where drug addicts can get treated. Now in his third year as sheriff, he pointed to several initiatives undertaken by his department that offer hope to the hopeless. One such program is called Choose to Thrive. It focuses on women who have committed crimes while being victims of sex trafficking. The women are taught life skills like parenting, and they can, in turn, be helpful in identifying true sex traffickers.
Another program is called Choose Your Path, which targets young men between 18 and 25, helping them find a new direction in life.
Toulon also points to specific recent cases, where defendants were arrested and released multiple times. Often, these are cases in which the defendant is mentally ill.
“Think about all the people who come before a judge, who can redirect the case to drug court, or veterans court, or youth court,” he said. Toulon pointed to several cases in a recent press release.
“Lonnie Pernell, 23, of Centerport was in and out of the Yaphank Correctional Facility five times during November and December for criminal contempt in the first degree. Each time, he was released on his own recognizance under the guidelines of the new bail reform law,” he said.
Pernell, Toulon added, is reportedly homeless, and “was arrested for continued intentional disobedience or resistance of the lawful order of the court by violating that court’s order. After each arrest he was released on his own recognizance just to reoffend again. In the past, the judge could have used this information to set a higher bail each time or even remand him to
jail.” According to online court records, Pernell has been arrested almost a dozen times since November, sometimes twice in the same day.
Another case is that of Dwayne Ross, 46, of Shirley. He was charged with strangulation, a felony, on December 10. A $20,000 bond was set and posted, and Ross was released. Two weeks later, he was charged with violating a court order of protection as a misdemeanor, and was eventually released. The judge in the case could not reference the strangulation charge in order to set bail. “The new law makes it clear: Mr. Ross must be released on his own recognizance, regardless of his criminal history or threat to the community,” Toulon said.