The case against Cruz Garcia in Delaware County raises questions about the justice system in New York. At stake is the safety of the public versus protecting the rights of individuals accused of crimes.
It has also become an opportunity for politicians to use Garcia as a punching bag to advance their political agenda.
If the allegations are true, Garcia is a violent criminal who deserves severe punishment. But, under our laws, Garcia is presumed innocent until proven guilty of the alleged crimes.
According to Acting District Attorney Shawn Smith, a grand jury indicted Garcia for three violent felonies. Garcia is alleged to have raped a woman by forcibly engaging in sexual intercourse without her consent; strangling the victim to the point of losing consciousness; and exposing the woman to serious physical injury.
Smith said the victim was taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment because her injuries were serious.
But there’s more to Garcia’s story.
According to Smith, the alleged rape occurred on July 25. About five weeks earlier, Garcia was arraigned on multiple felony charges in Orange County. “The judge didn’t have any discretion other than to release him back into the community,” Smith said in an interview. This was the situation “even though there was a warrant for him by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Enter the politicians.
“This is a preventable tragedy, precipitated by Albany’s bail reform laws,” U.S. Rep. Marc Molinaro said in a statement.
And some state lawmakers piled on. “This case clearly highlights the dual failures of Albany and Washington. Dangerous criminals continue to receive a pass,” state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, said.
In recent years Democratic state legislators with support from Gov. Kathy Hochul changed the bail laws, claiming the reforms are a mater of fairness.
The changes are explained this way. If a poor person is charged with a crime and the judge imposes bail, the poor person is unlikely to have money for bail, resulting in incarceration. While a person with money can post bail and get out of jail while awaiting trial.
That’s unfair, legislative reformers said. A person’s wealth should not determine their liberty.
Smith said there are two laws involved. “One, is the judge had no discretion and the DA had no discretion to even ask for bail on the charges against Garcia,” Smith said.
A second law prohibits data sharing. “Local law enforcement can not exchange information with ICE,” Smith said. “They can do it with other federal agencies but ICE is not even allowed to provide local authorities with any information like if they wanted to run a license plate check.”
Every other federal agency can do that, Smith said.
Garcia is now incarcerated and awaiting deportation in a federal lockup. Despite being in federal custody, Smith expects he’ll be able to prosecute Garcia for rape.
“ICE has been cooperative,” Smith said. “They said they’d work with us to get him back here so that he’s not deported before being prosecuted.”
However, Smith said he doesn’t have a satisfactory answer for the victim. “This is the worst case example of what can go wrong when you have to release somebody from custody despite having them [jailed] for a felony,” Smith said. “There is no way for me to explain or rationalize to the victim how this guy was released and then committed crimes.”
The argument against bail reform in this case is the woman would not have been raped before the law changed. Her attacker would have been in jail.
It’s a “Sophie’s choice.” People could get hurt either way. The accused may not be guilty but gets locked up. Or, a criminal gets out and commits more crimes.
I believe there’s a middle ground. We have judges. They’re supposed to make judgement calls. The answer lies with judicial discretion within common sense guidelines.