With the start of the new year, New York state’s bail reform bill has gone into effect and has been greeted with mixed reactions. Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared bail reform a victory for justice, while New York Republicans have slammed the bill as soft on crime and dangerous to the public. It has frequently been compared to the bail reform that New Jersey passed in 2017, however the comparison isn’t quite accurate, as there are significant differences between the two laws.
— Joe Borelli (@JoeBorelliNYC) January 1, 2020
Prior to this bail reform bill, New York operated a cash bail system, which has been criticized as unjustly impacting poor minority communities. Now almost all non-violent misdemeanors and felonies will result in immediate release, relying on the alleged perpetrator’s word, in addition to text and phone call reminders, that they will show up to their court date. More specifically, according to the Gothamist, judges must now consider the least restrictive conditions necessary to ensure the perpetrator will make their court date. If the judge determines that someone is a flight risk, the judge can order phone and text reminders, confiscate passports and firearms, set curfews, and use electronic monitoring once the system is available in New York.
Critics argue that there are now too many crimes exempted from bail and that the definition of a non-violent crime is too broad. The Gothamist points out that second-degree robbery and burglary, as well as some domestic violence charges will now all be ineligible for bail. New York State Senator Jim Tedisco also tweeted a list of crimes that are apparently no longer eligible for bail, which includes failure to register as a sex offender, possession of a gun on school grounds/criminal possession of a firearm, and making a terroristic threat, among others. (RELATED: A Judge Released An Alleged Anti-Semitic Attacker, Citing New York’s Upcoming Bail Reform. She’s Arrested For Assault One Day Later)
This is only one example of many of the insanity to come and why I voted against the so called “bail reform” law and have authored the bills pending to repeal it and give discretion back to judges. https://t.co/EI60l9PcBH
— Senator Jim Tedisco (@JamesTedisco) December 31, 2019
New Jersey enacted a similar reform to their bail system in 2017 when they almost completely eliminated money bail from their system, and arguably successfully, as violent crimes fell from 21,914 in 2016 to 18,357 in 2018, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the New Jersey reform differs from the New York reform in a key way. New Jersey judges have some latitude when it comes to determining who will go on supervised release. They can use their discretion and have a public-safety-assessment algorithm at their disposal that “uses a database of over 1.5 million cases drawn from more than 300 jurisdictions to identify factors that can best predict whether a defendant will be arrested for a new crime, be arrested for a new violent crime, or fail to return to court,” in order to help them make an informed decision. New York judges have no such tool or discretion. (RELATED: Celebrity Inmate Out On Bail After Supreme Court Tossed Sixth Straight Murder Conviction)
New York City councilman Joe Borelli argued that “true bail reform needs to allow for discretion on the part of judges.” “They used to have discretion to …weigh a risk of flight and to weigh threat to public. That’s the most clear cut way to make this more responsible,” he said. “Someone who steals a pack of gum is not the same person who committed some sort of violent crime.”
It is too early to make a statement on whether bail reform in New York will be a success, however, it does have some members of law enforcement, such as former New York City police commissioner James O’Neill worried about the potential consequences. “It’s only going to get worse,” he said in reference to several of the crime reform bills passed recently.