Making Bail Better

A new law opens the door to a more just criminal justice

It's a powerful notion: The same courts that jail thousands of New Yorkers a year for the crime of poverty depend for their smooth operation on defendants' continuing to plead guilty. Could these new bail funds empower and embolden enough defendants to fight their cases that the criminal courts grind to a stop?

That's not what the change is going to look like, Feige says. "By their nature, these are crappy cases," he says. "If they're not getting pleas, they get dismissed."

He points to the announcement two weeks ago that the Bronx District Attorney's office had told police it would stop prosecuting public-housing trespassing cases without first interviewing the arresting officers, after concluding that contrary to officers' written statements, many of those arrested were innocent.

After a judge ruled the Bronx Freedom Fund illegal, attorney David Feige set out to change the law.
Courtesy Tom Starkweather: cargocollective.com/tomstarkweather; starkweather.tumblr.com
After a judge ruled the Bronx Freedom Fund illegal, attorney David Feige set out to change the law.
Assemblyman Philip Boyle helped sell the bill to Republicans.
Wikipedia Creative Commons
Assemblyman Philip Boyle helped sell the bill to Republicans.

"It's not like the system grinds to a halt because of that," Feige says. "It's just that there's now some balance and equity in the system. Prosecutors, instead of merely taking advantage of the leverage afforded them because the person they're prosecuting is poor, actually evaluate their cases, realize which ones are crap, and get rid of them. By the way, that's how the system ought to work."

Perhaps the new bail funds will eventually have a similar effect, empowering so many defendants to fight and win their cases that the system backs up enough to change the policing that begins it all.

"If courts had to deal with even a 5 percent increase in people not taking pleas and getting acquitted, eventually the judge is going to say to the D.A., 'Stop wasting my time,'" Meltzer-Cohen says. "And the D.A. is going to say to the police, 'Stop wasting my time.' Maybe that's an optimistic scenario, but it's possible. Freeing people from unfair bail helps create that pressure."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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4 comments
Jade
Jade

What if one of the defendents takes off?

onecaptainjim76
onecaptainjim76

First we must storm the Bastiel if we wish to live free from unjust people today!

atuu
atuu

This bail out org is on the right track. Didn't do enough research into the law? I'm not sure. This is news story, who can know how much of it is fact.

 
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