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Brooklyn Judge Uses Forgotten Law to Dodge Bail Reform

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The Otis Bantum Correctional Center in East Elmhurst. Photo Credit: Jaildata.com

By: Ilana Siyance

It seems judges too are looking for a loophole to get around the bail reform, which would allow most criminals back on the street.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge, John Hecht, took the law into his own hands, and used his knowledge of past statutes to get around the notorious new law. As reported by the NY Post, Justice Hecht used an overlooked 40-year-old state law to keep a repeat offender behind bars for up to 90 days. In the ruling published last week, recurrent burglar Casey Knight was kept jailed at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center in East Elmhurst.

Knight, 51, had seven prior convictions. He had another burglary charge pending currently, for stealing $3000 worth of jewelry from a Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment. He was freed to roam the streets in December, in anticipation of the bail reforms. He was arrested again though on Feb. 1, for allegedly committing three more thefts last month in more Bedford-Stuyvesant homes, and appeared before Justice Hecht.

Under the new law, burglary in the second degree is a nonviolent crime, for which there is no longer need to post bail. Hecht, however, ruled that the 1981 law was not changed when state lawmakers made their reforms, and should therefore still be applicable in this case. “The exclusion of burglary in the second degree simply isn’t there,” Hecht said, referring to the older law. “Accordingly, based on all these factors, the court concluded that the least restrictive condition to reasonably assure his return was remand for a period of 90 days.”

A spokesman for the Legal Aid Society, which represents Knight in the case, said the office is still studying Hecht’s ruling “to determine next steps.”

Bennett Gershman, a former Manhattan prosecutor, said the Brooklyn judge did the “right thing.” “The judge rescued a very bad situation using this statute,” said Gershman, who also said state legislators were the ones who overreached in the reform measure.

However, some lawmakers disagree if Judge Hecht was right to rule as he did— based on an ambiguity. Jocelyn Simonson, a former public defender, said the lawmakers surely had not intended to leave the old law on the books , and said the judge used the case to broadcast his own disapproval for the new bail reforms. “This is not a result that should be happening,” Simonson said. “He’s going out of his way to make a ruling that he didn’t have to make.”

As per the Post, Hecht is not the first New York judge to try to circumvent bail reform. Last month, Nassau County District Judge David McAndrews ruled that accused serial bank robber Romell Nellis be held on $10,000 cash bond, despite the fact that the crime was no longer bail-eligible. Later, a different Nassau judge had to release Nellis without bail. After being freed, the criminal allegedly hacked off his court-ordered monitoring ankle bracelet, and swiftly pulled two more bank heists, according to police.

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