The general public trusts law enforcement officers to protect them. Meanwhile, those suspected of having committed a crime rely on their constitutional right of presumed innocence and a fair trial.
The grey space between a criminal accusation and trial may seem unfair. And a recent review of New York’s criminal justice system found that incarceration based on a suspect’s ability to pay for their pre-trial freedom may breed inequality.
Historically, many inmates faced additional consequences due to imposed financial obligations. Therefore, lawmakers had to wrestle with two questions:
- Are costly conditions necessary?
- Under what circumstances must a criminal suspect become incarcerated?
What can alleged offenders expect from bail reform?
Over time, the amount of cash bail set for alleged offenders throughout the state increased the number of people behind bars. The majority of those imprisoned had no guilty verdict. Now predictions estimate that in 2020, the state’s new bail law will reduce pretrial incarceration by roughly 40%.
As it stands, public safety is not a consideration in setting bail or detaining a suspect before their trial. However, although legislators eliminated money bail for roughly 90% of cases, a judge may impose financial constraints upon suspects accused of serious offenses which increase public risk. These charges include:
- Sex crimes
- Violent felonies
- Domestic violence
Courts will also consider flight risk when setting bail or deciding on release and pretrial supervision. Meanwhile, these conditions will depend on the charges and involved circumstances.
The key elements of the new law include:
- Judges may not set bail for robbery or burglary in the second degree unless charges involve violent conduct. However, you may need to post bail for violent felonies if the judge determines electronic monitoring or nonmonetary conditions are not enough to ensure court appearance.
- Bail may be a condition of nonviolent felony charges such as those related to terrorism, criminal contempt or witness tampering. For other nonviolent felonies, a judge may impose nonmonetary conditions such as electronic tracking.
- For misdemeanor charges, a judge may establish nonmonetary conditions for your release, including pretrial supervision, but only specific circumstances merit bail or a monitoring device.
A judge will consider financial hardship when setting bail, while restricting a suspect’s rights as little as possible.
This reform will inevitably reduce the system’s disparity. It will also allow defendants the chance to support themselves and their families while they strategize their courtroom defense.