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Republican lawmaker: Eliminate cash bail, but enhance judicial discretion

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Republican State Sen. Jake Ashby of Rensselaer County has proposed a bill to eliminate cash bail in New York, granting judges greater discretion and clearer criteria in determining pretrial detention. This comes as Democrats debate adjusting bail statutes due to ongoing public safety concerns.

Ashby’s bill, supported by several GOP senators, aims to remove all references to cash bail, addressing the original intent of 2019 bail law revisions that sought to balance the justice system and prevent disproportionate incarceration of those unable to afford bail. The proposal also grants judges extensive oversight over pretrial detention decisions.

The bill would establish a Commission on Public Safety Reform, responsible for analyzing court data to create a data-based risk assessment, providing judges an objective standard for evaluating a defendant’s potential risk. This would bring New York in line with states like New Jersey, where judges have more say in detention decisions.

Ashby’s legislation allows judges to determine whether an individual accused of certain crimes poses a substantial risk and should be taken into custody. Judges would consider factors such as prior convictions, access to weapons, gang associations, and a history of threats or witness intimidation. The bill would allow judges to remand individuals in cases involving felonies and specific misdemeanors, including sex offenses, domestic abuse, and election tampering.

While Ashby believes his bill offers a conciliatory approach to bail laws, progressive critics argue it gives judges the ability to make subjective determinations on an individual’s danger. Katie Schaffer, director of organizing at the progressive Center for Community Alternatives, called the proposal a “mass incarceration” bill, leading to increased pretrial incarceration.