Bail System Needs To Be Reworked, With Care

As a matter of fairness, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to reform the use of bail in New York state and to improve access to a speedy trial are good ideas.

Cuomo proposed new legislation that will eliminate monetary bail for people facing misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges and expand the discovery process to include disclosure of information including evidence and information favorable to the defense, intended exhibits, expert opinion evidence, witnesses’ criminal history information and search warrant information. The governor also proposed changes to reduce unnecessary delays and adjournments in court proceedings, and will also ban all asset seizures unless an arrest is made and will enhance reporting requirements for local law enforcement and district attorneys.

The devil, as always, will be in the details.

No one wants people sitting in jail simply because they commit a minor crime and can’t afford bail. And no one should have to wait years to have their day in court. It is a bedrock principal of our society that those accused of crime have rights that must be protected.

Simply eliminating bail will be bad for public safety. How will Cuomo’s proposal impact instances like the Jamestown man who was booked in the Chautauqua County Jail 13 times in 12 years and often kept breaking the law while waiting for his next court date? Or, what does it do to the two people Jamestown police arrested eight times each in October alone? It seems for every person who is in jail for the wrong reasons, there are people who are out of jail yet continue committing crimes against society.

We must protect the constitutional rights of the accused. We also must protect society at large who, too often, find themselves on the wrong end of the revolving door of justice. This is a complex issue that can’t be solved with a pithy press release from the governor’s office, nor should it be solved behind closed doors in the wee hours of the night and then voted on with a message of necessity. Public safety is too important for New York’s version of politics as usual.