By Linh Nguyen
NEW YORK — On Apr 2, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a budget bill that included a controversial change to the state’s bail law.
Since Jan. 1, 2020, the New York state bail law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and felonies; only extremely violent crimes were subject to cash bail. The new changes made on Apr. 2, 2020, reverse the previous law changes, allowing over a dozen crimes to again be eligible for cash bail. These crimes include grand larceny, burglary, sex trafficking, promoting obscene sexual performance of a child, and aggravated vehicular assault. The new reform is to be effective in 90 days.
This change has proved to be controversial among some New York politicians and criminal justice advocates.
New York Assemblymember Dan Quart released a statement regarding the bail rollbacks on Twitter on the morning of Apr. 3, 2020.
In his statement, Quart said, “Rolling back bail reform is unconscionable,” as it “undoes the progress we painstakingly negotiated.” Quart further claims that the undoing of the bail reform was done in an “anti-democratic process.” The people directly involved were not consulted. In addition, defense attorneys, religious communities and those who would be most impacted by the new legislation urged the government not to make these changes.
According to Quart, “these rollbacks undermine some of the core values of our legal system: the presumption of innocence and the belief that all people are equal in the eyes of the law.” Quart states that this rollback will have “devastating” effects on black, brown and low-income communities. This is because of previous statistics showing prejudice against these communities when setting bail.
To eliminate this prejudice, a provision in the bill requires that data on gender, race, ethnic background and socioeconomic status be collected for pretrial release and detention. This provision monitors how judges treat people presented before them and ensures that all people are being treated equally under the law.
Furthermore, Quart believes that these decisions were made during an inconvenient time amid the coronavirus crisis. In fact, jails and prisons are more vulnerable to the spread of the virus, threatening the health of incarcerated people.
“Passing legislation to incarcerate more people, in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Quart, “is a terrible mistake.”
New York State Senate Corrections Chair Luis Sepulveda also shared his statement regarding the bill on Twitter on Apr. 3, 2020. In an interview on Apr. 2, 2020, Sepulveda already briefly addressed his concerns about the bill, acknowledging its controversiality.
Overall, Senator Sepulveda was displeased with the bill, stating that “it is not the budget any of us were hoping for, nor had worked so hard for months to achieve. […] Countless organizations, schools, hospitals, public services and public benefits will see their funding diminished or go without crucial increases.”
In particular, Senator Sepulveda believed that the changes to bail reform on the bill “were not the ideal choice for New York.”
As the Chairman of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, Sepulveda said he fought as hard as he could to prevent changes to the policies made in January. Those changes made at the beginning of the year have already shown positive impacts, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic when it is important to keep people out of jails to save lives, according to Sepulveda.
The executive branch and the legislature agreed upon the prevention of the “dangerousness” clause and the security of a minimum 90-day implementation delay regarding the bail reform changes.
The “dangerousness” clause allowed a judge to presume a person to be a threat to the public based on supposition and detain him or her in jail before trial. However, the implementation of the “dangerousness” clause increased racial disparities in the criminal legal system. The aforementioned provision in the bill would prevent racial prejudice with the “dangerousness” clause.
“Overall, the changes to bail were not ideal,” said Sepulveda, “However they were the best we could secure from the Executive, and thanks to the Legislature’s leadership were less bad than feared.”
The justice system of the state of New York will be operating under this change to bail reform after its implementation in at least 90 days. The effective date is subject to change by the governor, city mayors, or district attorneys in accordance with the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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