Criminal Justice Reform Limits Money Bail, Judges in New York

Miguel Moreno
By Miguel Moreno
December 6, 2019New York

NEW YORK—With cash bail, money decides whether defendants await trial in jail or outside.

New York, however, is eliminating cash bail for certain misdemeanors and non-violent felonies starting January 2020. From then, people charged with these types of crimes will be released immediately after arrest.

Julie Rendelman, a criminal defense lawyer, said the reform is meant to help defendants avoid an unfair pretrial system.

“First of all, keep in mind that the word is accused, so they have not been convicted of a crime,” said Rendelman in an interview with NTD News. “And yet they’re being held sometimes with low bail which they can’t afford or high bail which they can’t afford.”

Julie Rendelman
Julie Rendelman speaks to NTD News reporter at her law offices in New York, New York, on Dec 2, 2019. (Oliver Trey/NTD)

New Jersey eliminated cash bail in 2017. The state did not see spikes in crime or no-shows in court.

State data for 2017 shows a one percent increase in new indictable crimes among those released without money bail compared to 2014. There was also a three percent decrease in court appearance rate.

A Judge’s Discretion

But unlike Jersey, New York will not not allow judges from basing their release decisions on whether a person is a danger to the public.

“Think of a robbery,” said New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea at an unrelated press conference on Dec. 5. “We’re gonna have situations where individuals—and we have the data to back it up—go out and do repeated robberies. Caught released, caught released.”

Shea said the reform would be a win for everyone, such as defendants and public safety if this issue were tweaked.

Criminal Court
Criminal Court Building in New York, New York. (Oliver Trey/NTD)

Rendelman said the reform was necessary: “Did they do it perfectly? I’m not so sure. I think time will tell whether they did it perfectly. I think we all, whether you’re a defense attorney or a prosecutor, you have some questions about some of the decisions that were made.”

Defendants charged with violent felonies, however, may still get money bail; if they do, judges are required to consider their financial situation.

Also part of next year’s reform, defendants and prosecutors will have quicker access to evidence in a case, which is known as discovery reform. Some local law enforcement agencies have said they’ll need more money to meet this requirement. But Governor Cuomo said last month that he wouldn’t provide additional funding, according to Spectrum News.

Correction: A previous version of this story had an error on the outcome of New York’s bail reform. Before bail reform, New York judges could not base their release decisions on whether the defendant posed a danger to the public.

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