Prosecute Lee Zeldin’s NY attacker in federal court for justice

Here’s all you need to know about the dissolute state of the Empire State: The man who violently attacked a candidate for governor during a political speech in broad daylight with media cameras rolling was released on his own recognizance just hours after the attack.

Sadly, the potentially deadly assault on Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in upstate New York may be the best illustration of why it is so vital that he be elected.

The incumbent against whom he is running, hapless Gov. Kathy Hochul, tweeted feebly, “I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.” No, New York is the perfect place for it. Under Hochul and her fellow Democrats, the state that once led the nation’s revolutionary reduction in crime has become a paradise for criminals.

Zeldin’s alleged assailant, 43-year-old David Jakubonis of Fairport, NY, was released without even having to post a bond, despite overwhelming evidence that he has committed a life-threatening felony. That’s because New York’s lunatic bail laws — even after the weak-tea “reforms” Hochul championed earlier this year — do not permit judges to order pretrial detention of defendants who are patent dangers to the community.

This puts New York out of step with virtually every state in the union. It also puts New York out of step with the federal government. That matters in this case because Zeldin happens to be a United States congressman.

The man who allegedly tried to stab Republican candidate for New York governor Lee Zeldin with a bladed weapon during a campaign stop on Thursday was released from jail within hours of his arrest on a felony charge
Suspect David Jakubonis was only charged with attempted assault in the second degree.
New York GOP
A group of people attending Congressman Lee Zeldin's stump speech gather around what the photographer says is the attacker, after an alleged attack on Zeldin during the speech, in Fairport, New York
Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the “violent behavior” of the attack on her opponent — without doing anything about it.
Ian Winner/Handout via REUTERS

As it happens, then, this was not just any assault. It was an assault on a federal official under US law. It was committed with a deadly or dangerous weapon — an object similar to brass knuckles but with protruding sharp points for stabbing, slicing and piercing. That would make it punishable by imprisonment in a federal penitentiary for up to 20 years.

By contrast, in Monroe County, state authorities charged Jakubonis with attempted assault in the second degree. (Did that look like just an “attempt” to you?) Thankfully, Zeldin was not seriously injured, but that works against the public under New York law.

Even though there plainly appears to have been intent to do potentially mortal harm, the lack of a serious injury — thanks only to the intervention of bystanders — meant the attack did not qualify for serious treatment under New York’s bail law. In New York, dangerousness is not a permissible factor for a judge to weigh in setting bail; defendants are released with instructions to return for the next court date — which we hope they’ll follow, but they often don’t.

Congressman Lee Zeldin stands on stage during his stump speech, before an alleged attack on him, in Fairport, New York, United States, July 21, 2022.
New Yorkers must elect Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Ian Winner/Handout via REUTERS
David Jakubonis managed to grab Rep. Lee Zeldin’s arm in his attack.
David Jakubonis managed to grab Rep. Lee Zeldin’s arm in his attack.

Under New York law, moreover, the defendant may be looking at just two years’ imprisonment if convicted. Indeed, there would be no jail time at all if, as is typical in the state, prosecutors plead the charge down to a non-violent felony on the rationale that Zeldin was not killed or badly wounded.

If Jakubonis were charged federally, things would be very different. Not only would a judge set bail with strict monitoring conditions; the defendant could instead be detained as a danger to the community. A person who attacks a gubernatorial candidate in front of a crowd of spectators and the assembled media is a textbook case of dangerousness.

Furthermore, if convicted, Jakubonis would be looking at real time. Not only would the ceiling be higher (20 years, rather than the seven years that is more nominal than real under New York law); the defendant would be sentenced under federal guidelines that result in higher sentences by computing exacerbating factors, including the potential lethality of the weapon involved, as well as any disturbing history of prior crimes and threatening behavior.

New Yorkers should elect Lee Zeldin as governor because he is clear-eyed on the need to restore the crime-fighting approach under which New York blazed a trail to record low crime and domestic tranquility for a generation beginning in the 1990s.

NY Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul only wants to maintain a safe haven for criminals.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire
Republican candidate for Gov. Lee Zeldin is attacked by David G. Jakubonis in Peinton NY. near Rochester.
Suspect David Jakubonis could be locked up for up to 20 years if he was federally prosecuted.

But the case of Lee Zeldin’s assailant belongs in federal court because, as long as Governor Hochul and her ilk are running the show, New York’s criminal justice system will remain a haven for criminals … and a nightmare for New Yorkers.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor.

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