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One year after bail reform DA tells NAWJ that Brooklyn can end cash bail

April 17, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (second from left) spoke about his bail policy and said that Brooklyn can eventually end cash bail altogether during the National Association of Women Judges meeting in Downtown Brooklyn this weekend. Others pictured (from left): Bronx DA Darcel Clark, Crystal S. Yang, Skylar Albertson and Martha Rayner. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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It’s been a year since District Attorney Eric Gonzalez officially reformed his bail policy and the results have been so positive that he thinks Brooklyn can do away with the cash bail system entirely, if he can get some help from the state Legislature.

“The governor has proposed in NYS ending cash bail on misdemeanors on certain categories of felonies and I’m in the minority of DAs who have been somewhat supportive of it,” Gonzalez said. “I support ending cash bail and developing pretrial services that we can send people to. We’ve made tremendous progress here with an over 90 percent release rate on cases coming to courts. It’s a good start.”

Gonzalez was speaking to dozens of judges from Brooklyn and around the country at the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) 2018 Midyear Meeting, which was held at the Marriott in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday to Saturday. It was the first time since November 2001 that the meeting has been held in Brooklyn.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Gonzalez officially announced changes to his bail policy on April 13, 2017. He explained on Friday that policy changes meant that assistant DAs would no longer ask for bail unless they were seeking more than 30 days in jail for a defendant, or if they planned on diverting the case out of the courts. 

“The results of the new bail policy that has been in effect for about 12 months, is that 92 percent of all people who come through the criminal court in Brooklyn on a misdemeanor are ROR’d [released on own recognizance],” Gonzalez said. “That’s a tremendous amount. The remaining amount of cases where bail is being set are cases involved with violence, domestic violence in particular.” 

The DA then announced that he was taking his bail reform a step further this week and ADAs will no longer seek bail just because someone has a bench or summons warrant.

“If someone has a bench warrants or summons warrants, we’re telling the ADAs that not paying a fine or not answering a summons is reason to ask for bail,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not trying to take discretion away from ADAs, but I’m trying to give them the tools to make better decisions.” 

The biggest thing holding Gonzalez back from eliminating cash bail immediately is that, he says, changes in the law are necessary. Currently, NYS law says that bail should be set only to ensure a defendant returns to court. However, he has advocated during the past year for the ability for judges and prosecutors to evaluate people based on their public safety risk.

“As I’ve been instructing my ADAs is that I’m less concerned with risk of return to court on some of these low-level cases,” Gonzalez said. “We know we will eventually get someone who has a long criminal record and was arrested for fare evasion or some low-level drug case. We don’t need to ask for bail in that case even if they’re not a good risk to return to court because we’ll get them.” 

Judges from Brooklyn are heavily involved with the NAWJ. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

NAWJ’s Midyear Meeting featured a welcome reception on Friday with remarks by Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, and Hon. Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department. Friday’s luncheon was hosted by Errol Louis, political anchor at Spectrum News NY1, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray. 

There were eight panels throughout the weekend, including the panel on bail reform during which Gonzalez served as a panelist alongside Bronx DA Hon. Darcel D. Clark, Martha Rayner, Crystal S. Yang and Judith Resnik. The panels gave experts an opportunity to discuss issues directly with judges from across the country.

The panel on nonconsensual pornography featured Brooklyn attorney Carrie Goldberg. She explained to the Brooklyn Eagle that she and other panelists were advocating for changes in the law. 

“This group that is presenting has been really effective in combating nonconsensual porn through working with tech companies and advocating changes to the law,” Goldberg said. “We had a law passed recently in NYC, but we’re focusing on state and federal law changes too. But it’s important for judges, especially family and criminal court judges, to recognize it and the damage that it causes.”

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