Gov. Kathy Hochul is hitting the brakes on overhauling cash bail laws after securing tweaks in the state budget approved last week.
“We are done with bail — under the circumstances that are before me today,” she told the Buffalo News in an interview published Sunday while leaving herself wiggle room to potentially pursue changes in the future.
“We accomplished what we needed to do,” she said of the changes made in the new $229 billion budget.
Judges will have more leeway to impose bail and other pretrial conditions on criminal defendants after Hochul held up a final spending plan weeks past an April 1 deadline to get the changes past progressive resistance.
Critics of controversial cash bail limits, first approved in 2019, say Albany Democrats ought to go further by approving a “dangerousness” standard allowing judges to jail people they believe threaten public safety.
“Our push is for judicial discretion because everything in the criminal justice system is a case-by-case basis,” Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R-Staten Island), a former prosecutor, previously told The Post.
“That’s why these bail reform laws are so dangerous because a judge is the one that sees the defendant, reads about the defendant’s background, knows about the case, has an [assistant district attorney] in front of him to be able to question them about the case, and the judge can make an informed decision based on the facts of the case presented to them,” he added.
Supporters of that approach say tougher conditions on people accused of offenses would reduce the number of people who might contribute to rising crime ahead of their trials.
But people on the political left note that crime has risen in states with looser limits on cash bail.
They have also objected to the idea of making it easier to jail accused criminals by noting they are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.
Hochul has characterized the changes she championed as a middle ground that would address public concerns about public safety while giving judges more room to impose bail, electronic monitoring, or other pretrial conditions like drug treatment.
“This was what was not happening — we weren’t having people being sent to programs that would help them rehabilitate,” Hochul told reporters on May 2. “And what we’ve opened it up as [is] for the ability for a judge to look at the entirety of the picture of the individual.”
After weeks of negotiations, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) agreed to Hochul’s proposal to nix the requirement that judges use the “least restrictive” conditions to ensure people show up in court.
Stewart-Cousins and Heastie, like Hochul, have signaled that they are in no rush to make additional changes to state bail laws after approving the third round of rollbacks to bail reform since cash bail was abolished in 2019 for all but the most serious crimes.
“The fact is that things happen and we want to be able to address things as they happen. But we are also data-driven. We want to make sure that we’re not just responding to, you know, fear,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday.
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