Thursday, February 7, 2013

New York Bail Reform

When the Chief Judge of an entire state says that changes need to be made, it makes big news. New York has always had the problem of not explicitly addressing public safety, but what is most encouraging is that Judge Lippman is also talking about the other side of the bail coin – the unnecessary pretrial detention of low risk defendants who simply lack the funds to get out of jail.

The whole New York Times story is at the link – I only reprinted a couple of excerpts.

Top Judge Says Bail in New York Isn’t Safe or Fair
Published: February 5, 2013

Castigating the bail process in New York as unfair to the poor and susceptible to allowing dangerous suspects to be set free, the state’s top judge called on Tuesday for an overhaul of the bail system that would bring the state closer in line with the rest of the country.

In his annual State of the Judiciary speech in Albany, the chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said New York was one of only four states that did not allow judges to consider public safety when making a bail determination. The main criterion used by judges is the risk of the defendant’s not returning to court for trial.

“As a result, defendants may be put back on the street with insufficient regard to public safety, with possibly catastrophic consequences,” he said. “Few, if any, would seriously argue that judges should not consider the safety and well-being of people on our streets or in our homes when making bail decisions.
“This makes no sense and certainly does not serve the best interests of our communities and our citizens.”
Conversely, Judge Lippman said the bail system was stacked against those accused of minor crimes, keeping them in jail at great personal hardship and weakening their resolve in plea negotiations. The judge called that outcome “unfair” and said it “strips our justice system of its credibility.”

Judge Lippman’s proposal is in line with trends across the country to overhaul bail so that it is based more on an analysis of the risk that defendants pose to public safety, rather than their financial well-being. The United States Conference of Chief Justices, of which Judge Lippman is a member, last week adopted a resolution with similar goals.