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Bail Bond Reform is Like Swiss Cheese

Slices of swiss cheese on wooden chopping block over black background

Here’s what makes good Swiss Cheese: A medium-hard texture, pale yellow skin, a sweet and nut-like flavor, little holes throughout. But when you make a sandwich, the holes can be problematic – condiments and toppings sometimes penetrate, infusing bread with less-than-appealing flavors and moisture. Think of them as lunchtime “loopholes.” Now, imagine bail bonding reform the same way – characteristics that seemed appealing now fall apart thanks to loopholes a court may take advantage of to speed up trial or sentencing processes.

Bail Bonds Reform Goes Kaboom in NY

Ostensibly, bond reform has been legislated to tighten controls on setting bond, pre-trial motions, and the other legal machinations that prosecutors allegedly deploy against a defendant. Bond reform in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and California did away with cash bail bonds. Proponents say these measures protect the poorest defendants. Prisons are less crowded, and local budgets are no longer strained from the high costs of incarceration. Any bondsman would agree this sounds reasonable – in theory.

But theory doesn’t always work when put in practice. Leonardo da Vinci, the world’s greatest artist and all-around Renaissance Man, was obsessed with human-powered flight, but decided it wouldn’t work after trial and error. Some judges across the country have arrived at the same conclusion after controversial bail bonds laws were enacted.

Earlier this year, the Washington Examiner reported on bank robber Romell McNellis: “An alleged criminal is on the run after a New York judge ignored the state’s controversial bail reform law by placing a bond on an offender, only to be overruled by a higher-level judge.

“Nassau County District Judge David McAndrews understood that an accused two-time bank robber was not being charged with a ‘bondable or bail offense’ as required … but placed him on a … bond hold anyway after deeming him a ‘menace to society.'”

Later, a higher-level judge over-ruled McAndrews, and set McNellis free – who disappeared soon after removing his ankle monitor.

A Closer Look at Judicial Discretion

If you haven’t noticed, cash bail naysayers are on a mission to rewrite the American judicial system. The weaknesses of our society – poverty, racism, other socioeconomic inequalities – will never be solved by letting an offender stroll out of court without paying bail. A big problem we see is with judicial discretion and lack of oversight. Judges are human – they have good days and bad, they read the news, they have opinions and feelings that can affect their judgment. As we’ve seen, the New York bail reform law is rapidly becoming an example of 1.) What not to do, and 2.) What happens when laws are rewritten without adequate investigation. But we’re Americans, right? We’re always in a hurry!

As of January 1, 2020, the New York law effectively did away with cash bail for all non-violent felonies and all misdemeanors. So, if a New Yorker has a history of writing bad checks, he can walk free without bail. A serial robber whose actions cause a victim to break down emotionally? Yep, a judge can let him go without cash bail.

New York bail bond reform is a cautionary tale for Americans everywhere. The city has other problems to worry about right now, but more due diligence is needed. Some within the judicial system are having second thoughts. From the New York Post:

“New York’s chief judge Janet DiFiore weighed in on the state’s controversial bail reform Wednesday — calling it a “counterproductive” mistake when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature eliminated judicial discretion to detain dangerous criminals when they rammed through the law change as part of last year’s state budget.”

In February, DiFiore made it clear her displeasure with judges no longer having the power to decide if a defendant poses a “credible risk” to another person or persons.

Fewer Loopholes, More Reform

If you’re a resident of Colorado in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, or Denver County, you’d be right to worry. Bail bond reform in Colorado is no better. It sounds good, but who monitors a biblical-like flood of defendants crashing to the streets upon release? If a defendant is released without bail, will he or she care about missing a court date based on leniency already bestowed? Maybe or maybe not.

Bail bonds reform will only work if it’s meaningful, intelligently discussed, and carefully legislated. As a bondsman, these laws will affect your livelihood, but need to be implemented in a fair, balanced manner. As a reminder, not all Swiss Cheese have holes and tastes just fine, and bail bond reform laws don’t need them, either.

Here’s another loophole worth mentioning. Per the NY Post: “A Brooklyn judge tapped a loophole in the state’s controversial new bail reform to send a serial burglar to jail.” The judge “used a provision that lets judges keep persistent felony offenders behind bars for up to 90 days to order prolific burglar Casey Knight locked up at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center…”

The judge ruled the defendant was a habitual offender and was eligible to be held in jail. This all points to the need for legitimate bond reform. How are voters in New York voicing displeasure since reform became law? They’re putting the screws to Gov. Cuomo and other lawmakers:

“A Siena College poll released Monday found support for bail reform has collapsed — with 59 percent of New Yorker voters now saying the new law is bad for New York. Only 33 percent of responders said it was good for New York, a drop of 16 points in one month.”

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