Local firm touts bail reform as Supreme Court sets standards for release

Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent | 4/3/2019, 6:54 p.m.
While a landmark Georgia case has now set the standard for bail, one New York-based law firm is applauding the ...
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While a landmark Georgia case has now set the standard for bail, one New York-based law firm is applauding the Empire State’s readiness to address the injustice of cash bails.

The Manhattan firm of Watford Jackson, PLLC, said innocent until proven guilty can feel like a sham when thousands of accused but non-convicted defendants languish in New York jails for lack of a few hundred dollars to make bail.

Shockingly, lawyers at the firm noted that 72 percent of people arrested in New York City end up at the notorious Rikers Island jail for at least a day because they cannot raise the necessary cash bail fast enough, even for a misdemeanor crime such as drug possession or assault.

However, the state of New York does appear to be ready to address this injustice in 2019.

A task force created by the New York State Unified Court System spent over a year discussing the issue and published its final report in February 2019.

The report largely agrees with the latest drafts of bail reform legislation coming out of Albany.

The likely changes include:

  • More offenses should be designated for police issuance of an appearance ticket rather than an arrest.

  • People accused of misdemeanor and some non-violent felony crimes should be released without cash bail, either on their own recognizance or with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions necessary to ensure their appearance in court.

  • However, courts should be able to deny release if the defendant currently poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an identifiable person or group.

  • State law should specify a limited list of crimes for which a defendant may be held in pre-trial custody, if the prosecutor makes a case for it.

  • Judges’ use of electronic monitoring in place of jail detention should be subject to specific guidelines set out in state law.

New York City has already taken action over the past four years to reduce its jail population rather than wait for state-level reform.

The city now offers a program known as “supervised release,” a partnership with nonprofit groups that will help evaluate defendants and allow social workers to maintain contact with assigned defendants, the attorneys at Watford Jackson noted.

Of the first 10,000 people who qualified for supervised release, 87 percent attended all of their court dates.

Other bail reforms instituted by NYC include the elimination of jail sentences of less than 30 days; expansion of the bail expediters program; and creation of an online website that family members can use to pay bail as soon as a defendant has been arraigned.

Watford Jackson’s report comes as the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 1, refused to review a decision in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case of Maurice Walker v. Calhoun, Georgia.

The high court’s refusal to hear the landmark case of Walker v. Calhoun, Georgia, means the August 2018 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stands, which ruled that money bail and bail schedules is constitutional.