Public Defender Calls For Bail Reform

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County public defender called the high amounts of bail set for some defendants “unconstitutional” at a recent meeting of the Chautauqua County Community Justice Council.

As it relates to jail overcrowding, Barone said bail reform would also help this issue by allowing defendants who can’t afford bail an alternative option to sitting in jail. Barone referenced Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that is no longer requesting bail regarding any misdemeanors. Barone called that regulation “significant.”

He also added that in New Jersey courts are assessing bail as it relates to risk, as opposed to just setting a base amount for bail without considering the defendant.

“They’re having great success in New Jersey,” he said. “Again, it gets away from just because someone was arrested for a particular charge then we have to set bail at this particular amount.”

Barone also said in Chautauqua County that when bail is relatively low at $100 or $200 some individuals have a hard time affording those amounts.

“They have no resources, they can’t post that,” he said.

Barone noted that because people can sometimes not pay for bail the jail then has to house them. Which he said contributes to the jail overcrowding problem.

Barone noted that for defendants who are accused of non-violent crimes often sit in a jail cell because they can’t afford bail.

“It unnecessarily and unconstitutionally penalizes someone for being poor,” Barone said. “It penalizes you for not having any assets and not having any income.”

The public defender noted that defendants will also take plea deals even if they aren’t guilty.

Barone also updated the board on council at first appearance or centralized arraignment which would allow an attorney to be present at each initial arraignment. Barone said his office has been successful at accomplishing this in city court and are now working to accomplish this in town courts. He admitted the office would need more attorneys in order to have someone from his office on call at all time.

“Our office has made some changes as far as full time employment and we’re in the process of hiring additional attorneys over next month so we’ve increased or are increasing our attorney size,” Barone said. “Which will allow us to try to get something in place for the town courts on a 24/7 arraignment.”

Barone said Oneida and Broome counties have successfully implemented a centralized arraignment system in their respective county jails.