New York Law Seeks to Abolish Cash Bail

] Early this week, New York lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a slew of reforms to the state’s criminal justice system as part of the 2020 budget. Among the biggest changes is the end of cash bail for a majority of criminal charges.

“Ninety percent of the people who are charged will remain out of jail. You want to talk about a life-changing measure … these are people who would’ve been sent to Rikers in New York City,” Cuomo told reporters Sunday. “We did not handle the violent felonies … and that’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”

Under the new legislation, cash bail will remain in place for those with violent felony offenses and Class A felonies such as aggravated murder, arson, terrorism, criminal possession of an unlawful weapon, and kidnapping, New York Law Journal wrote. Pretrial incarceration will also be eligible for these offenses, the publication noted. The new legislation will allow a judge handling a criminal proceeding to decide whether bail should be established, if the defendant should be set free, or if the person should be held behind bars. Judges must also consider the defendant’s record of criminal convictions, the actual charges the individual faces, flight risks, and other factors, the Journal noted.

If a judge sets bail for a defendant, it should not pose undue hardship or the ability to “obtain a secured or partially secured bond.” This point addresses one of the main concerns lawmakers — particularly Democrats — had regarding the burden bail places on low income individuals while allowing well-off defendants to be released before trial. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been fighting to end this unjust system, particularly for poorer Americans and people of color who often don’t have the money for bail, therefore leaving them behind bars while awaiting trial for months or even years. The ACLU cited a report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which indicated an increase in the incarcerated population due to the US' bail system. In the past three decades, jail admissions doubled to 12 million, and the average stay increased from 14 to 23 days.

Judges won’t be allowed to determine what constitutes a defendant’s dangerousness or threat to public safety, a rule that remains under the current law, New York Law Journal added. Instead of setting bail, the defendant can be released under electronic monitoring or the supervision of a pretrial services agency.

New York State’s criminal justice reform is the result of longstanding advocacy. What’s more, a group of 14 prosecutors across the US issued a letter in early March to the state’s capital, Albany, to abolish pretrial cash bail. “We support ending money bail because safety, not wealth, should be the defining feature of the pretrial justice system,” the letter read.


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.