Suggested changes would expand judges’ discretion to set cash bail.
Did the bail reform laws enacted by the New York legislature in 2019 lead to the release of two Mexican cartel smugglers arrested with $1.2 million of meth in New York City in early July?
That’s what opponents of New York’s revamped bail reform laws are claiming, and it seems some people – including the State Senate in Albany and NY Governor Kathy Hochul – are listening. NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell has also expressed support for a redo of the state’s bail laws that eliminated cash bonds for most misdemeanor and non-violent offenses.
Even New York City Mayor Eric Adams is on-board with reforming the reforms.
The Latest NY Bail Reform Bill
In 2019 the New York legislature enacted bail reform laws eliminating the requirement of bail for most defendants charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony offenses. The bail laws stayed the same for most violent felonies.
Those bail reform measures, the first since 1971, eliminated bail while mandating release for 90% of all arrests statewide.
What’s New in 2022?
Partly due to an increase in violent crime in New York State, Gov. Hochul submitted a ten-point public safety plan in March 2022. Four of her suggestions relate to again changing the state’s bail reform laws.
Notable proposed bail system revisions include:
- Allowing judges to set bail for additional charges and repeat offenders
- Granting judges more discretion to require bail for certain felonies based on a defendant’s criminal history or whether they possessed a gun while committing the alleged crime
- Increased funding for pretrial diversion and employment programs for incarcerated individuals
The state’s current $220 billion budget includes more than $227 million for gun violence prevention programs and $90 million to expand and implement discovery reforms and support pretrial services.
New York’s FY2023 Enacted Budget permits judges to set bail for all three felony gun offenses currently eligible for bond. Those instances are:
- Criminal sale of a firearm to a minor and criminal possession of a defaced firearm
- Criminal possession of an unloaded gun becomes bail-eligible (and arrest eligible) on a second offense
- Criminal possession of a gun on school grounds, which is already bail-eligible but not arrest eligible, becomes arrest eligible if the defendant is 18 years of age or older
The Problems with 2019’s Bail Reform Law
Opponents of New York’s 2019 revamped bail reforms argued that by removing judicial discretion on the setting of bail, the legislature was effectively releasing people charged with crimes back on the street in many cases – what was once called “revolving door” justice.
Bail is the legal mechanism used to ensure a defendant, following an arrest, will appear for future court appearances to face the criminal charges leveled against them, rather than take flight.
Proponents contend that without amendments to the bail laws, a disproportionate number of defendants, particularly those who are African American or low-income, will sit in jail for extended periods before trial for even the most minor of offenses calling for bail as low as less than $1,000. Indeed, the former bail laws resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants spending unnecessary time on New York’s notorious Riker’s Island, awaiting their day in court. Incidentally, many wealthy defendants could afford the outrageous bail set in their cases and could relax “in luxury,” highlighting further inequities in bail law.
Pros & Cons of New York Bail Reform
With COVID-19 rampant in correctional facilities and Monkeypox on the horizon, the need to monitor health conditions in overcrowded prison facilities is a serious concern. And despite no clear link between New York’s 2019 bail reform laws and the recent uptick in violent crime across the state, those who see cause-and-effect blame, in part, the reformed bail laws.
Some argue that releasing individuals charged with crimes without bond is a recipe for disaster. However, with fewer people behind bars awaiting trial, taxpayers have been saving money, and jails around the state are less crowded.
For the most part, we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach to how additional bail reform efforts will impact the crime rate in New York.
Need Help from a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
As you can see, bail reform is a complex issue, but it often puts an undue financial burden on individuals who have yet to be convicted of anything. At Protass Law, we focus on protecting our client’s civil rights and advocate for their interests at every stage. If you have a bail or bond question, call 917-397-4153 or complete our contact form for a free, confidential consultation.