ALBANY - Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday called for a "top to bottom" overhaul of making bail determinations that not only protects public safety but is fair to low-income defendants waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.
Lippman told judges, elected officials and lawyers gathered at the Court of Appeals for his 2013 State of the Judiciary message that a "coherent, rational approach" is needed for a "vitally important part of the criminal justice system that has been untouched by reform."
The chief judge urged passage of an amendment to the bail statute that would allow judges to consider the risk that defendants will commit additional offenses while awaiting trial in addition to the risk that they will not appear in court.
At the same time, he called for the creation of a statutory presumption to make clear that where defendants are charged with non-violent offenses they will be released pretrial with the least restrictive requirements possible unless prosecutors demonstrate they poses a legitimate risk to public safety or of flight.
"Our overriding goal must be to ensure that pretrial detention is reserved only for those defendants who cannot safely be released or who cannot be relied upon to return to courtand to do all we can to eliminate the risk that New Yorkers are incarcerated simply because they lack the financial means to make bail," Lippman said.
He also proposed the expansion of supervised release programs that monitor defendants pretrial and provide them with needed services. He noted that the cost of such programs is between $3,100 and $4,600 per defendant, compared to $19,000 for pretrial detention. Nearly 30,000 people are held in local jails at any given moment, the chief judge added.
In an interview after the speech, the chief judge and Judge Lawrence Marks, the first deputy administrative judge of the state courts, said it was unknown how many defendants would qualify for pretrial release under the proposal.
But Lippman said one ramification is clear: If his proposals are enacted, the bail bond industry in New York would be "basically irrelevant."
"It's a travesty that judges, prosecutors, don't make decisions about a person's liberty, that they're made on the basis of a profit-making money enterprise," Lippman said. "That that's the person who has in many instances the critical role in determining a person's liberty is outrageous. This is not something we can be proud of."