Governor Kathy Hochul has proposed amending the state’s controversial bail law to make it easier for judges to keep people accused of certain crimes behind bars.
The proposal would eliminate the “least restrictive means” standard in bail-eligible criminal cases, which is used to determine what type of release conditions are sufficient to ensure someone charged with a crime returns for their next court date. The change would give judges clear discretion in cases involving violent felonies, some nonviolent felonies and certain cases in which a set of circumstances, such as a specific pending charge, to send someone straight to jail before trial or set bail. The proposal is part of a broader criminal justice package that Hochul offered Tuesday in her State of the State address, which focused heavily on gun violence and funding existing initiatives.
The administration argues that the change wouldn’t significantly change the number of people held pretrial (absent a subsequent charge), although state data shows a less clear picture of the potential impact. The recommendation is a part of a broader criminal justice package that Hochul offered Tuesday in her State of the State address, which focused heavily on gun violence and funding existing initiatives. It also offered proposals to remedy some elements of the public safety crisis by addressing the mental health aspect of the problem.
The announcement immediately received pushback from progressive advocates who helped to change the state’s bail laws in 2019. Those changes were designed to remove the economic discrimination inherent in a system in which someone’s freedom is based on their ability to pay. The state, instead, said for misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies, the alleged offenses would not be bail-eligible. Public defenders insisted the “least-restrictive means” standard was always the letter of the law, based on the U.S. Constitution. Hochul’s proposal to drop it, therefore, “accomplishes nothing of value” and is “in tension with well-established United States Supreme Court precedent,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. The organization said Hochul was “continuing to falsely scapegoat bail reform.”
The governor is also seeking additional funding for discovery reform and other measures aimed at reducing wrongful convictions, as well as investment in community-based crime-prevention programs and alternatives to incarceration. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the state legislature and it remains to be seen if the changes will be implemented.
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