New York to end cash bail for nonviolent crimes starting in 2020

New York State will end cash bail for all nonviolent crimes starting January 2020 in the hopes of keeping some non-convicted people accused of breaking the law out of jail. The new law prevents judges from assessing cash bail on those charged with misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies, reports the Vera Institute of Justice.  

Judges, however, can set bail on some nonviolent felony charges that include sex offenses, witness tampering, terrorism-related offenses and felony-level criminal contempt in domestic violence cases.

The new law also mandates that a judge must consider a person’s ability to pay bail and the possible hardship the amount would impose on the accused. Judges have the option of not requiring a deposit for any money upfront (known as an unsecured bond) or only depositing up to 10 percent of the bail amount (known as a partially secured bond).

The changes to New York’s cash bail system came after Kalief Browder, a Bronx man who spent three years incarcerated at Rikers Island on $3,000 bail until his case was eventually dismissed, killed himself shortly after being released from incarceration, according to Vera. The tragedy pushed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to change state laws, reserving cash bail for more serious cases and not misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies.

At its base, the new law aims to prevent judges from setting a bail on those accused of lower crimes that keeps them imprisoned.

This is a positive step in criminal justice reform as New York’s cash bail system should lower the incarcerated population throughout the state. Vera reports the average daily jail population in New York State was around 24,000 people, with almost 70 percent of those people held in pretrial detention.

The reforms are a welcome change as there are numerous infractions under New York State law that can result in a pink slip or arrest. Some of the most common offenses include public urination, possession  of a small amount of marijuana, unlawfully in the park after hours, unlicensed general vending, bicycle on the sidewalk, and littering, among other similar public nuisances.

For a Class A misdemeanor conviction, those charged can receive up to a year in jail and fine of up to $1,000. Class B misdemeanor convictions can lead to three months in jail and up to $500 in fines. Felony penalties are harsher, with Class E felonies resulting in up to four years in prison and up to $5,000 fines. The most severe charge is a Class A felony where the convicted can serve up to life in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, or double the amount gained from committing the crime.

Having the proper attorney after an arrest or receiving a pink slip can help ensure judges follow the new state law and don’t impose a cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.