After months of controversy, new changes to New York’s bail reform law were passed in the 2020-2021 state budget.
The bail reform law went into effect in New York state on Jan. 1, and had eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges such as “stalking, assault without serious injury, burglary, many drug offenses and even some kinds of arson and robbery,” according to a New York Times article. The bail reform was intended to even the playing field for low-income people of color.
“Our bail system is biased against the poor, too many jails are cruel and inhumane, and our court system is too slow,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a press release prior to the passing of the bail reform law. “The blunt ugly reality is that too often, if you can make bail you are set free and if you are too poor to make bail you are punished. Race and wealth should not be factors in our justice system. It’s that clear.”
However, the controversy came shortly after the law was passed.
Shortly after, there were hate crimes and assaults being committed in New York, and the perpetrators were released free of bail. Brooklyn resident Tiffany Harris was arrested three times for assaulting Othodox Jewish women within a week and walked free under the bail reform law, according to Vox.
Even New Paltz began to see the effect of the bail reform law with the case of Ruben Ortiz. On Jan. 19, Ortiz was arrested for a “domestic dispute” and subsequently released under the bail reform law, only to be arrested again just 20 minutes after his court appearance. A protection order was issued to his female victim, but Ortiz went to the home after his court appearance, violating the order and resulting in his arrest.
Critics of the bail reform law were calling for more crimes to be eligible for bail. The reforms have added 12 more bail eligible or qualifiying offenses to the existing list.
The new offenses added include: Criminal possession or sale of a controlled substance in the first degree, hate crime assault or arson in the third degree, sex trafficking and sex trafficking of a child, burglary in the second degree “when an individual is charged with entering the living space of another,” certain domestic violence offenses, aggravated Vehicular Assault in the first degree, grand larceny in the first degree, aggravated assault on a child younger than 11, endangering the welfare of a child when committed by a level three sex offender, money laundering in support of terrorism in the third and fourth degree, and promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child.
Ulster County District Attorney Dave Clegg and Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa have both voiced their support for the changes to the law.
“In particular, the amendments to the discovery law were much needed and were smartly targeted to make sure that expedited discovery took place where a defendant was detained pre-trial, but allowed additional time for prosecutors to respond to other cases,” Clegg said in a press release, according to The Daily Freeman. “This struck the proper balance between protecting the rights of criminal defendants while offering prosecutors much needed additional time to provide comprehensive discovery.”