What Could Changes To The New York City Bail System Mean For You?

Posted on: 15 October 2015

Being faced with the news that a spouse, child, or other close relative has been arrested and is being held in jail pending a bond determination can be frightening -- particularly if you know you'll have trouble coming up with the cash or property to pay a significant amount to a bondsman. You may be concerned that a high cash bail can keep your relative incarcerated for months (or even years) pending trial. Even if your relative is later acquitted or the charges are dropped, this period of incarceration could have a permanent effect on his or her mental state, jobs, and relationships. However, if you live or work in New York City, significant changes to the way bail for minor crimes is structured may be coming. Read on to learn more about these changes and how they could affect your ability to bail a relative (or even yourself) out of jail.

What changes is New York City making to its bail process?

With the tremendous population density of New York City and the surrounding areas, law enforcement has its hands full -- and this can mean the jails and courts process an average of around 650 individuals per day arrested for minor misdemeanors or infractions. With this type of volume, courts are often pressured to move through cases quickly, and judges frequently set relatively high cash bail amounts, often without apparent thought to the seriousness of the alleged crime or the ability of the defendant or his or her family to come up with the bail amount. In fact, an inability to post bail pending trial is directly responsible for 40 percent of the current inmate population on Rikers Island. Because cases are processed so quickly, there isn't much oversight over the amount of bail set for minor crimes, and defendants who can't afford an attorney may not be aware that they can appeal the amount of bail set.

While a bail bondsman can assist criminal defendants in getting out of jail (even with a high bail amount) by providing the court with a bond to ensure the defendant will show up to all scheduled court appearances, this option is often not available for cash bail, which requires the entire amount of bail to be paid to the court in cash. This bail won't be refunded until after your trial has concluded or the case has been dismissed -- which could be years away.

Recognizing the strain on both the jail system and the city's population, New York's Chief Judge is enacting reforms within the judicial branch that will help provide alternatives to cash bail for minor crimes. While these reforms won't actively change any law, most in power agree that the bail law is outmoded, and legislative reform may not be far behind.

What can these changes mean for you if a relative is in jail?

Some of the changes being implemented in New York City misdemeanor courts include having each case double-checked by a second judge within 10 days of the initial hearing to ensure that the bail amount is fair given all the circumstances, ordering in-home detention (or "house arrest") in lieu of a cash bond, and utilizing a number of alternative bail methods that can allow you or your family to easily use a local bondsman and even pay bail with a credit card. 

This can mean that your arrested relative has a variety of options, even if money is an issue. If your relative has a smartphone, he or she may easily be able to submit to electronic monitoring until a trial is scheduled. In most cases, this monitoring can even be programmed to allow your relative to go to work and school as scheduled rather than sit in a jail cell. If you feel the amount of bail set for your relative is too high, you may be able to appeal it and have a second look within two weeks rather than potentially waiting months.

Talk to a professional service like Absolute Bail Bonds to discuss your options for bail.


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