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Battle in Albany begins over Hochul’s proposed bail reforms, including greater discretion

Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a frequent critic of the state’s approach to changing New York’s bail laws, on Tuesday said he is “heartened” by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent actions on the issue. The Albany Democrat’s sentiments offer a sign that the governor’s approach to public safety has begun to swing toward the concerns raised by prosecutors since the 2019 alterations to pre-trial release were made.

“We were very heartened by her State of the State remarks,” Soares told the Times Union on Tuesday, following a news conference with Hochul at a crime analysis center in Albany. “It provided a signal to those of us in law enforcement that there would be some support.”

Soares said Hochul’s latest proposals to the Legislature to tweak the state’s bail laws, including tripling funding for prosecutors and increasing resources for community-based programs, “certainly did a lot to bolster our spirits.”

“We can go back to our respective agencies and let our prosecutors and staff know that we have someone sitting on the second floor in Albany who understands what we’re dealing with and willing to do her best to provide us with the resources that we need,” Soares said, referring to the floor of the Capitol that houses the executive chamber.

Hochul has taken heat early on from some progressive lawmakers and public defenders who view her criminal justice proposals negatively, particularly alterations to a portion of the state’s retooled bail laws.

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“People have been trying to utilize bail as a sword instead of a shield in our state to unjustly incarcerate people who have never seen their day in court,” said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, following Hochul’s State of the State earlier this month. “And that’s just un-American.”

Hochul has proposed giving judges more “discretion” when it comes to deciding whether to set bail or to remand an individual who has been accused of a crime that the state has deemed as “bail eligible.” Hochul is characterizing those bail eligible offenses, such as many felonies and certain alleged repeat offenses, as “serious crimes.”

She wants to eliminate requiring judges to apply a standard of the “least restrictive means” to ensure someone’s return to court in cases involving “serious crimes.” Hochul said she believes that would allow judges to no longer have to balance the least restrictive standard with the list of factors judges can consider when determining whether to hold someone in custody while awaiting trial.