Mayor Bill de Blasio (81271)

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a change to state law that would allow judges to consider the risk to public safety when setting bail or considering an alternative program for a defendant.

The mayor’s declaration comes after the shooting death of New York City Police Department officer Randolph Holder. Tyrone Howard is accused of fatally shooting Holder in East Harlem along FDR Drive. Last year, a judge approved of Howard attending a diversion program instead of jail after he was arrested during a drug raid.

“We believe it’s absolutely necessary to amend the state bail, and diversion statutes, and add the concept of public safety risk to the statutes, requiring judges to consider whether the defendant poses a danger to the community when deciding whether and how much bail to set,” said de Blasio during a recent news conference. “And that, by the way—and this is a shocking statistic—that is already the law in 47 states in this country. It is the law in the District of Columbia. It is the law governing our federal courts. Only New York state, Missouri and Mississippi stand apart in not including this information and requiring its consideration.

“And the same requirement that the issue of public safety and the danger of the individual has to be considered by a judge in decisions related to the choice between treatment and jail.”

The current bail statutes in New York have been in effect since 1971, and they afford judges an array of bail options to make sure a person charged with a crime returns to court. The law also allows judges to remand people without bail depending on the circumstance.

But not everyone wants to see a change to the bail laws. In a joint statement released by Legal Aid Society Criminal Practice Chief Justine M. Luongo and Association of Legal Aid Attorneys President Deborah L. Wright, the duo considered any change to bail laws a non-starter.

“While our hearts ache for the family of New York City police officer Randolph Holder, we oppose the types of changes to New York state’s bail system advocated today by Mayor de Blasio,” read the statement. “The current statute has been effectively used since its inception and already gives judges the power to protect public safety. In fact, recent studies all point to a steady decrease in felony arrests, and just this past summer, Commissioner [Bill] Bratton announced that the city was on its way to reduce felonies to an historic low.”

The statement concluded, “While the death of police officer Holder is a tragedy for the entire city, changing the law to undermine the presumption of innocence is not the answer and would have disastrous consequences for fairness in our criminal justice system.”