Bail Dispute Throws Wrench Into NY Justice Reform Plans

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Photo by Daniel Oines via flickr

New York state lawmakers are working through disagreements over how to reduce or eliminate the use of money bail as part of a broad overhaul of New York’s criminal justice system they hope to finalize this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

On Wednesday, lawmakers reached agreements on proposals around providing evidence earlier to defense attorneys and setting trial timelines. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn’t sign a state budget, which is expected to top $175 billion, unless these criminal-justice pieces are included. “The final sticking points are really in the bail-reform proposal,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol.

New York could join a growing number of states that have reduced or eliminated money bail. While proponents say bail is necessary to make sure suspects return to court, critics say it results in poor defendants being jailed while wealthier ones go free.

In 2017, New Jersey nearly eliminated the use of cash bail. Last year, California’s governor signed a bill that eliminates cash bail. That law is on hold pending a voter referendum next year. In New York, the biggest dispute has been over how to handle defendants who could be a risk to public safety.

When making bail  decisions, New York judges can consider the chance of a defendant not showing up to court but not dangerousness, or threat to public safety. The District Attorneys Association of New York supports curtailing cash bail but believes judges should have discretion to determine dangerousness.

New York’s proposals differ from other states’ changes in that they mandate release for many crimes, restricting prosecutors and judges from holding defendants in jail regardless of their criminal records, said Insha Rahman of the Vera Institute of Justice.

Additional Reading:

California Bail Reforms on Hold Pending 2020 Vote

Cherise Fanno Burdeen: Is a Common-Sense Approach to Bail Reform Finally Gaining Traction?

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