New Law Gives Judges More Say Over Probation Terms

, New York Law Journal

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ALBANY - Giving judges more flexibility to set probationary terms should free up resources so that high-risk offenders can be better supervised, say proponents of a bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new probation measure will allow judges to reduce mandatory probationary terms for felonies and misdemeanors, so long as they're not sex-related charges or other higher-risk offenses.

For most felonies, which currently carry a mandatory five-year term of probation, the new law will give judges the choice of imposing three- or four-year terms. For misdemeanors that now call for three years' probation, the law allows courts to choose a two- or three-year term.

The change, made through amendments to state Penal Law §65.00 and Criminal Procedure Law §410.70(5), was backed by state court administrators, the state District Attorneys Association and bar groups.

"It will improve public safety by enabling probation departments to more efficiently and effectively provide supervision to probationers who need it, rather than expending supervision resources on low-risk offenders who may not require supervision for such a lengthy period of time," Cuomo wrote in an approval message to the bill, A4582/S4664.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it will be up to judges to select the appropriate probationary term for offenders "based on the evidence before them."

"The best way to keep New York City safe is by focusing our resources on those individuals who pose the greatest risk to public safety and will respond most dramatically to new opportunities and resources," a statement by the new mayor said.

Vincent Schiraldi, New York City's Department of Probation commissioner, said judges have been "hamstrung" by mandatory probation sentencing laws.

"This law represents a big win not only for New York's judges and probation departments, but also for anyone concerned with advancing public safety in a time of austerity," Schiraldi said.

But as he was signing the bill, Cuomo said the new law needed two critical refinements before it goes into effect.

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