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Sweeping Bail Reform 2020

Come January 1st, 2020, New York State will enact “sweeping bail reform” according to CBS 6 News.  Within this bail reform package, cash bail will be eliminated for all misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.  Only violent felonies, domestic violence, witness intimidation and sex crimes would be eligible for cash bail under the Bail Elimination Act, which is the name of the bill for bail reform.

Under the current bail system, the accused person is charged with a crime, arraigned and goes in front of a judge to determine the amount of his/her bail.  The only instances where bail would be denied to a criminal defendant is if the crime was violent or the defendant poses a significant flight risk.  In many instances, bail is expensive and is unaffordable to many criminal defendants.  The main reason bail is expensive is that it serves as an incentive for criminal defendants to show up for their court proceedings.  If a criminal defendant shows up to his or her court proceedings, the bail amount is refunded in a matter of weeks.  If a criminal defendant does not show up for his or her court proceedings, the money is not refunded and it is kept by the government.

A more common way to post bail is to get the assistance of a bail bondsman.  If a criminal defendant chooses to hire a bail bondsman, he or she will put up 10-15% of the bail amount while the bondsman puts up the rest.  Regardless of the verdict or the criminal defendant’s attendance to court proceedings, the 10-15% is not refunded.  The bondsman gets the money he or she paid to bond the defendant out of jail if the defendant shows up to the court proceedings.  If the defendant does not show up to the court proceedings, the money is not returned to the bondsman and whatever collateral the defendant put up for the bond would now belong to the bondsman.

With the proposed cashless bail, there would be a significant drop in the demand for bail bondsmen.  According to the FBI, violent crimes are less frequent than nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors.  Bail bondsmen make a large portion of their money by bonding those who have committed misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies out of jail.  Due to the fact that those crimes would no longer require cash bail, many bail bondsmen could go out of business.

This proposed law has many supporters along with critics.  Supporters of the Bail Elimination Act claim that the elimination of cash bail would eliminate racial inequality within the bail system because minority groups statistically were unable to afford bail.  Supporters of this law also claim that eliminating cash bail allows the government to invest more money in pre-trial services, including rehabilitation and mental health screening, according to CBS 6 News.

According to News 12 WBMG, many district attorneys, prosecutors, and sheriffs are opposed to this proposed law.  Sheriff’s offices and district attorneys from multiple counties in New York State fear that the cashless bail removes the incentive of appearing in court and that it allows criminal defendants to pose more of a flight risk.  Even if a defendant poses a significant flight risk, a judge must release him or her if the charge is a misdemeanor or a non-violent felony.  Police stations also argue that they would have to spend more money to recapture defendants who do not show up to their court appearances.

All we know now is that bail reform is on its way and now we’ll just have to wait and see.