ALBANY — The group representing the municipal judges who handle tens of thousands of arraignments each year in New York courts are urging lawmakers to reject Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to reform the bail system.
"Village and town judges should continue to have the ability to set bail and remand defendants as the current law permits," Michael Petucci, president of the New York State Magistrates Association, said in a statement issued Thursday.
Cuomo has identified bail reform as a key element of his package of criminal justice reform measures. His proposal would end cash bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
Critics of the idea suggest it would significantly boost the number of people being sought for skipping court appearances and make communities vulnerable to criminal activity.
Petucci, whose group represents more than 2,000 local judges, suggested that lawmakers proceed with caution before advancing any major changes to the current system.
"In view of the fact that the current bail proposal represents one of the greatest changes affecting the Unified Court System and the Criminal Procedure Law in recent criminal justice history, we respectfully request the legislature hold extensive hearings on these serious and substantial amendments so that all voices can be publicly heard," he said.
Reform advocates argue the current system punishes people who have not been convicted of a crime but remain locked up because they can't afford bail requirements, putting their jobs and homes in jeopardy.
Cuomo is seeking to have the bail laws updated as part of an agreement for a new $175.2 billion budget. But the District Attorneys Association of New York has also registered concerns. While there are active discussions in both legislative chambers over the governor's proposal and competing ones in the Senate and Assembly, striking an agreement has proven elusive.
The magistrates have suggested an end to monetary bail for minor offenses should be limited to New York City.
The group also suggested it could "consider supporting" setting a ceiling on bail for certain offenses and allowing higher courts to conduct an "immediate review" of bail decisions.
Petucci said the governor's proposal would force counties to hire more probation officers and purchase ankle bracelets for monitoring the movements of defendants. He also said many defendants would prefer a requirement to post moderate bail over being subjected to "intense release supervision."
The New York Civil Liberties Union, in a report last year, examined detention practices in eight New York counties, concluding that out of more than 100,000 pre-trial detainees, the majority were being held on misdemeanor and violation charges.
Also concerned with impacts from bail reform proposals is the New York State Association of Counties. The county governments run the probation departments, public defender offices and the sheriff's departments that jail and transport prisoners.
"Any effort to enact bail reform must be accompanied by state funding for the incremental costs associated with pretrial supervision, counsel at first appearance, district attorney costs for setting bail or release determinations, and collecting and transporting offenders who fail to present to court," the association said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.