Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R- N.Y.), who pressured city officials to find ways to jail personsaccused of repeated violent crimes until their trials, yesterday praised the D.C. City Council for tightening bail restrictions but said more changes are needed.
The council unanimously adopted emergency bail revision legislation Tuesday night, after some members complained about D'Amato's involvement and others predicted the bill will not be as useful a crime prevention tool as its promoters suggest.
"The council and mayor are to be commended for their prompt consideration of this important legislation," said D'Amato, chairman of Senate subcommittee on D.C. Appropriations. "I do believe however that other fundamental modifications need to be made."
The bill will allow prosecutors in some cases to hold repeat offenders for up to 90 days before they come to trial -- an increase of 30 days over present law. It was proposed Monday by Mayor Marion Barry, 10 days after D'Amato said the city should do something about what he called "the revolving door of justice" here.
Stanley S. Harris, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, told the council Tuesday night the law revision would give prosecutors greater leeway in keeping the most dangerous offenders in jail. However, he said, the measure's 90-day detention provision probably would affect fewer than 100 cases a year.
As emergency legislation, the bill will go into effect for 90 days after Barry signs it. The council also gave initial approval to identical permanent legislation, which must be voted on again and is subject to a 30-day review period by Congress before it becomes law.
In addition to the 90-day hold provision, the emergency bill would extend from five calendar days to five working days the time prosecutors could hold suspects to determine whether they have violated parole or probation restrictions.
It also establishes a three-day hold for suspects who are out on bail on previous offenses but who have not been brought to trial to determine whether the previous bail should be revoked. It allows judges to inquire into a suspect's source of bail money or other securities to determine whether they stem from illegal sources.
D'Amato said city officials also should make it easier for prosecutors to prove the need for detention and should increase the penalities against those who jump bail, changes which are included for the federal level in a bill he is cosponsoring in the Senate.
He did not again raise the idea of imposing high cash bonds to keep repeat offenders in jail until trial. Barry and Council Chairman Arrington Dixon had endorsed that idea when D'Amato proposed it earlier, but later dropped it after prosecutors and others raised questions about its constitutionality.
A spokesman for Barry said D'Amato's two additional suggestions were discussed earlier but not adopted because they are not yet a part of federal law. The spokesman said Barry is open to suggestions for further improvements in the bill.
In other actions, the council gave final approval to a bill that extends liquor store hours, allows credit card liquor sales and limits the number of chain convenience store outlets that may hold beer and wine licenses. It approved a revision of the city's laws against theft and a variety of white-collar crimes, and voted to allow the public school system to lease space in vacant school buildings and use the funds for education improvements.