Home Nonviolent defense Editorial: Bail isn’t the problem

Editorial: Bail isn’t the problem

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Critics of bail reforms in New York continue to ignore two basic facts about our criminal justice system: First, people are considered innocent until proven guilty. And second, the purpose of bail is to ensure a person shows up for court – not to summarily deprive them of their liberty before trial.

These are not quaint aspirations. These are essential characteristics of any justice system worth its salt. Without them, we would live in a society where government officials could imprison people on a whim, without bothering to prove their case. These protections are integral to the concepts of public order and the rule of law.

Yet here we are again, with New York’s Republicans and conservatives – who profess to uphold law and order and limit the power of big government – railing against reforms designed to guarantee, as the oath of allegiance, justice for all. The reforms aimed to prevent police investigators and prosecutors from using the threat of expensive bail and a long jail term without trial to extract guilty pleas from people too poor to afford a lawyer. and dependent on an overstretched public defense system. Reforms designed to even out a system in which those with money could be released pending trial, while those without money languished behind bars.

The newest attack on bail reform comes, among others, from Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. Its law and order platform stops short of condemning former President Donald Trump for plotting the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, the very heart of American democracy, but instead focuses on the issue. politically artificial bail reform.

An incident involving Mr. Zeldin last week illustrates how contrived the problem can be.

Mr Zeldin was at a campaign stop outside Rochester when a man approached him with a sharp self-defense tool. Mr. Zeldin grabbed the man’s arm, and the man was tackled to the ground and arrested. He was charged with attempted second-degree assault, but was later released on his own recognizance by a city judge because the charge is a non-violent felony and not eligible for bail.

Why hasn’t the suspect been charged with a bailable violent crime? Why didn’t a prosecutor appear in court to ask for conditions on the suspect’s release? Those would be questions for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney Sandra J. Doorley, who is listed as Mr. Zeldin’s campaign co-chair — a potential violation of ethics rules for district attorneys — although she claims to have quickly retired from this role. . She also said she would recuse herself from the case, but as of the start of this week, she had not officially done so. In any case, the failure to charge the suspect more harshly under state laws — which were in effect long before bail reform — gave Mr. Zeldin and his fellow Republicans a supposed example of the “failure” of bail reform, coerced as it was.

And to go back to this fundamental principle of American justice and the reality of bail: the suspect is always presumed innocent until proven guilty, and even if the charge were eligible for bail, he could pay bail if he could afford it.

We understand that it is not always easy to wait for our justice system to work. We understand the frustration that law enforcement can feel, like Watervliet Police Chief Joseph Centanni, who last week took the extraordinary step of issuing a press release warning residents of a man who subject to seven drunk driving arrests, including three in the past three months. only. He claimed – wrongly – that it was entirely the fault of bail reform. It’s not. Even if a bail was set, the person could post it and be released. Opponents of bail reform have ignored this fact, intentionally or not, from the start.

Cases must run their course in a fair justice system. In the meantime, we don’t just lock people up because the police or opportunistic politicians who think they’ve touched on a hot topic say they should be.

And experience suggests that giving judges more leeway to set bail in more types of cases will make little or no difference. As Joshua Solomon of The Times Union reports, the latest data shows that those released on bail are being re-arrested on a separate felony charge at about the same rate as those released on their own recognizance. And in both cases, the overwhelming majority of defendants who are released – 83 to 84 percent – are not re-arrested pending resolution of their cases.

Bail reform is not just about lofty principles of justice. These are the very real consequences of people being imprisoned and unable to work, pay rent or mortgage, feed and support their families. Destroying the lives of people who may well be innocent is a recipe for turning honest people into desperate people. And the desperate sometimes turn to crime. Our justice system should punish criminals, not create new ones.