NY Murder Charge Shows Risks of Pretrial Release

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A New York City bail case highlights how the law keeps judges from assessing the risk a defendant might hurt someone if released, the New York Times reports. It shows how criminal court judges, who handle dozens of cases daily, can make decisions based on scant information presented to them by public defenders and prosecutors. The arraignment in Bronx Criminal Court late on a Sunday night took a few minutes, The information placed before Judge David Kirschner was sparse: a rap sheet with eight arrests and a criminal complaint saying the defendant had tried to punch a police officer and kicked out the back window of a police van. The prosecution asked for a hefty bail — $5,000 — noting that defendant Jose Gonzalez, 25, was awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges that he had assaulted a worker at the supportive-housing unit where he lived. “This defendant has proved he cannot follow court orders and stay out of trouble,” said the prosecutor.

A public defender said Gonzalez denied trying to punch the officer and said he had shown up for every court date for his assault case. The judge released him. Three weeks later, he was charged with murder after he stole an ambulance and backed over an emergency medical technician, killing her. Since 1970, New York has not let judges consider a person’s possible danger to the public in setting bail; instead, they weigh factors affecting the likelihood the person will return to court, like family ties, prior arrest warrants, the evidence and the potential sentence. More than 40 states direct judges to consider public safety in setting bail. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs a measure that would let judges use a risk-assessment tool — a scientific algorithm using data from arrest records and other sources — to determine a defendant’s danger to the public if released.

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