New York state defenders oppose changes to bail reform

ALBANY – The State of the State outlines the governor’s priorities, signaling what she plans to do.

Gov. Kathy Hochul talked in her address last week about making improvements to bail reform.

“Of course you know that that won’t, it’s not going to bring down crime rates, we don’t expect that,” the governor said in her speech to legislators. “But we also have to make sure the law is clear for our judges on what their rights are and what their expectations are.”

“I think she was really speaking to the voters at that point,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D – Albany). “She heard the voters. The voters are frustrated.”

Crime and bail reform were issues during the election.

Opponents of bail reform have complained that it gives criminals a revolving door. Supporters praise it as correcting decades of historic wrongs.

“I think your pocketbook should not dictate your level of justice, but does that mean it’s a one and done? Of course not,” said Fahy.

The possible changes could include giving judges more discretion in setting bail in some cases, perhaps doing away with the requirement that judges impose the “least restrictive” way of trying to ensure that defendants return for court.

A coalition of New York defenders responded to the governor’s remarks, pointing out that Hochul herself said bail reform is not a driver of violent crime, but they said, “Despite this, the Governor once again seeks to amend this legislation ‘in order to restore confidence’ in our system, confidence that is being undermined by fearmongering and misinformation. Bail reform has been a historic win for New York.”

Another part of the joint statement issued by the Chief Defender Association of New York (CDANY), the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL), and the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) reads: “We call on the Governor to re-examine her position and recognize that the bail reform accomplished what it was intended to do – restore equity and fairness to a system that indeed treated people differently based on the color of their skin or the size of their bank account.”

Prosecutors and police have long asked lawmakers to allow judges to consider dangerousness.

Hochul said last week the bail reform law – as written – leaves room for improvement.

“I think she’s taking the issue on head-on,” said Assemblywoman Fahy. “She’s telling us we have more work to do, and I think she’s right.”