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Changes Proposed To Bail Reform Legislation

A Hyde Park Republican is proposing two changes to the state’s bail reform laws to make it easier for judges to set bail.

Sen. Sue Serino, R-Hyde Park, recently proposed S.6840 and S.6839 in the state Senate. Both pieces of legislation have been referred to the Senate’s Rules Committee.

S.6840 would amend the state’s Criminal Procedure Law to allow judges to set bail for those accused of a crime who pose a current physical threat to public safety. The legislation amends the law to allow a judge to make an individual determination regarding the danger a person poses to the safety of any crime victim, person or the community at large.

Under the bail reform legislation that goes into effect Jan. 1, courts will release defendants on their own recognizance pending trial unless it is demonstrated and the court makes an individualized determination that the defendant poses a flight risk to avoid prosecution, though the court cannot consider how dangerous a defendant is.

Serino wrote that in U.S. v. Salerno, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts can detain those arrested before a trial if the person is proved to be a threat to others in the community. Including New York, four states don’t allow judges to consider how dangerous a defendant may be when setting a securing order.

“When California became the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail, they provided for safeguards to ensure the protection of the community, including allowing courts to order defendants to report to a court officer or consent to monitoring such as ankle bracelets, as well as allowing preventive detention for those the court deems too dangerous to release,” Serino wrote in her legislative justification. “Unfortunately, the reforms passed in the 2019-2020 New York State Budget did not include any such safeguards. This legislation would rectify this troubling issue and grant New York courts the ability to better protect our communities by allowing them to consider the dangerousness of a defendant when setting a securing order.”

S.6839, meanwhile, would amend the Criminal Procedure Law to add some offenses committed by a family member to the list of crimes that qualify for bail to protect domestic violence victims.

The legislation adds all instances of aggravated family offenses to offenses that qualify for bail, including third-degree assault, first-, second- or third-degree menacing, second-degree reckless endangerment, second-, third- and fourth-degree stalking, criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, second-degree manslaughter, first- and second-degree unlawful imprisonment, first-, second- and third-degree coercion, second- and third-degree burglary, first-, second-, third- and fourth-degree criminal mischief, first-degree harassment, second-degree aggravated harassment or any attempt or conspiracy to commit crimes where the accused and the victim were members of the same family or household.

“This legislation will ensure that each crime under the aggravated family offense statute is considered a qualifying offense for the purpose of judicial consideration of cash bail and pretrial detention, as victims of domestic violence are much more at an increased risk for re-victimization,” Serino wrote in her legislative justification. “Expanding the definition to include such offenses will offer the ability for courts to provide greater protections to victims of domestic violence during the pretrial period, as these cases are unfortunately not uncommon-Dutchess County alone has had 375 cases involving aggravated family offense charges since 2014. While it is incumbent upon the state to safeguard the rights of those within its borders, maintaining public safety and protecting victims must remain a top priority.”

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