Recent changes to New York bail law have come in two phases. The Brennan Center for Justice explains that the purpose of original bail reform, effective January 1, 2020, was to eliminate cash bail for many offenses.
However, responding to criticism, state lawmakers approved revisions to bail reform that will go into effect on July 1, 2020.
The purpose of cash bail is to require defendants to return to court
When judges impose cash bail, the jailed person must pay cash to gain release pending trial. Reform advocates argue that cash bail is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence, as people may remain jailed pending trial simply because they cannot afford bail. These advocates argue that judges and lawyers should impose less burdensome conditions to assure defendants will return to court.
Reforms attempted to modify cash bail
The first phase of state law reforms eliminated cash bail in cases where offenders faced charges for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. These reforms required judges to impose the least restrictive release terms necessary to compel offenders to appear at trial. Judges retained discretion to set pretrial release conditions for defendants in all other cases.
Bail law continues to change
After criticism of these reforms, lawmakers adopted changes that permit cash bail for additional crimes, including second-degree burglary and certain assaults. These changes also allow judges to take into account a person’s legal history or status when determining whether to impose bail.
Politico explains that U.S jails house more than 700,000 people, approximately two-thirds of whom await trial. Most of these people remain confined because they could not afford bail. People who are unable to gain release pending trial may lose jobs, suffer trauma, sacrifice family time and feel pressure to plead guilty. These stresses may make people more emotionally and economically unstable and may even increase crime.