The state Justice Task Force came out Wednesday in support of eliminating cash bail and traditional bail bonds for defendants facing misdemeanor and certain nonviolent felony charges.
The action was taken in advance of the Legislature and governor’s office coming to an agreement on the state budget due by April 1. In his budget proposal, Cuomo included a plan to eliminate cash bail for minor crimes. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez already have said that their offices will not ask for cash bail for minor crimes.
The task force, which was appointed in 2009 by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to reduce the number of wrongful convictions, made preliminary recommendations on bail reform Wednesday in advance of a more in-depth study of the issue that it is just beginning.
“Our function is to prevent wrongful convictions and certainly bail reform is a part of it,” said Carmen B. Ciparick, a retired Court of Appeals judge who is co-chairwoman of the task force and of counsel to Greenberg Traurig ”This is all pretrial obviously and prepleas. We’re very concerned about the fact that people are sitting in jail pretrial and that’s because they’re impoverished and can’t afford bail and we want to make the system fairer.”
New York Court of Claims Judge Mark Dwyer, the task force’s other co-chairman, said the panel is recommending that there be a presumption that bail is not needed for most nonviolent crimes. But, he said, judges should have discretion in certain cases such as a nonviolent offender who is an extreme flight risk because he stole more than $1 million.
At a New York State Bar Association conversation on the subject in January, panelists agreed that cash bail often unfairly targets the poor and minorities who cannot afford to pay. To study that issue, the task force wants the state to collect data to determine whether there are, indeed, any differences in requests by prosecutors and detention orders by courts across racial groups.
The task force also suggested additional training and education for judges, courtroom personnel, prosecutors and defense attorneys on alternatives to bail.
“The aim is for us, as a body consisting of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, victim advocates and others across the criminal justice system, to build on the important work now being done and to develop consensus on a number of difficult issues connected to that work—including, but not limited to, the most prudent way to approach pretrial services, preventive detention and bail alternatives,” the task force said in its statement.
“At the outset, however, we emphasize that it is critical for the state to provide sufficient funding in order for any of these bail reform packages to succeed,” the statement said.