NEW YORK – New York State Sen, Michael Gianaris wants to replace the bail system with a program that would let defendants free on certain terms or remanded to jail.
The system has been criticized as unfair and leading to the poor being jailed for long periods without the means to raise the money to free themselves pending trial or to face charges.
The Democratic lawmaker from Queens instead has proposed a three-tier scheme to replace bail.
For the most serious offenses, including first-degree murder, a judge would have the authority to remand a defendant to jail. For misdemeanors, violations and other nonfelony infractions, a defendant would be released on his or her own recognizance. And for other cases, a judge could order a supervised release.
“The bail system has been bastardized to become a means of imprisoning people without due process,” Gianaris told the Wall Street journal in an interview.
“Too often, bail is used as a means to incarcerate someone before they’re even tried and convicted, and what we’ve seen is on very minor offenses, people spend more time in jail waiting for their trial than the offense would justify.”
His plan was developed in consultation with the New York Civil Liberties Union, and comes after city officials said cash bail could be eliminated for certain defendants, releasing thousands of people awaiting trial for some low-level offenses to community supervision programs rather than detaining them in jails.
Bail “serves no purpose other than to incarcerate people who are too poor to pay it,” Donna Lieberman, NYCLU’s Executive Director, saying the group has worked toward “putting in place the least restrictive alternatives to cash bail available.”
Earlier this year, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed creating a $1.4 million fund that would use city money to bail people charged with misdemeanor offenses whose bail is set at $2,000 or less.
In 2013, there were more than 16,000 such cases. Defendants pay 10 percent of bail and the rest is put up by bondsmen who typically require collateral or other guarantees of repayment in most cases.
Mark-Viverito said that “bail reform is essential to making our system more fair” and added that the council “hope[s] others follow as we seek to fix our broken criminal-justice system.” The fund was included in the city’s June budget.
The age-old bail system is under growing criticism. On Oct. 1, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was due to announce changes to the state’s bail policy.
In recent years, he has proposed legislation that would allow judges to consider a defendant’s possible risk to public safety when making bail determinations. New York is one of only four states where judges aren’t allowed to do so.
Gianaris’ idea has already run into resistance in the Republican-led Senate where Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden said he wouldn’t go along with it and added: “I don’t think any of my colleagues would support that either.”
He said that, “Crime is a key issue for people and they want to live in safe communities,” but Gianarais said eliminating bail wouldn’t lead to leniency.
“The overwhelming impact of this would apply to people charged with misdemeanors or less,” he said, “so the very serious crimes that could result in a remand, that stays the same.”