Former Brooklyn Bar Association president Arthur Aidala advocates for bail reform
Aidala recommends NYS create a blue-ribbon panel on reform
The purpose of bail in New York state is to ensure a person returns to their scheduled court date. However, the reality is that the current system of cash bail often punishes people simply for being poor and, as a result, a lot of emphasis has been put into reforming the system recently.
Criminal defense attorney Arthur Aidala, the past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association and a former Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, is one of the people who would like to see changes to the way things are done.
“If you don’t think money plays a tremendous part in our criminal justice system, your head is buried in the sand,” Aidala said during a recent radio appearance on AM970 with host Dominic Carter. “At every single level money plays a role.”
Aidala took part in a panel discussion with Carter and fellow panelists Doug Knight, of the Queens District Attorney’s Office; Michelle Esquenazi, president of Empire Bail Bonds; and Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association on Nov. 14, where he suggested some potential changes to the system.
Aidala wants NYS to create a blue-ribbon panel, made up of prosecutors, defense attorneys and other bail experts, to create a bail schedule for state judges to follow.
“There should be some guidelines to give these judges, whomever they are, so that if a judge takes the bench who is totally out of line, you could say, ‘Your honor, I know you’re setting bail at $1,000, but the guideline says that it should be $500 and you’re doubling what it should be. Can you articulate on the record why you’re doubling the amount of bail that the guideline says?’
The purpose of bail is supposed to be to ensure return to court. However, Aidala explained that judges will often set bail high as a way to punish allegedly violent criminals and to protect themselves from public backlash in case that defendant commits another crime while out on bail.
Aidala pointed to Judge Lorin Duckman, who was removed from the bench in 1997 after a person involved in a domestic violence dispute committed murder while out on bail, as a warning sign to judges.
Aidala said there are judges out there who “don’t have the chutzpah” to set the right bail. He later added, “If there is a judgement decision to be made, well, I think it should be a lower bail. But if this guy goes out and does something, then it’s going to be on my head, my family, my mortgage, my kids college tuition.”
Aidala also explained that bail schedules will alleviate another major issue: judges without enough experience on the bench. In particular, he was referring to Civil Court judges who often fill in for Criminal Court judges on weekends in New York City because of staffing shortages. He explained that even the best of them don’t always understand the intricacies of setting bail.
“Do you know who on the weekends, is in many of the courthouses in the city of NY?” Aidala asked rhetorically. “Civil Court judges. Judges who literally, out of 365 days a year, they’re doing 362 days of car accidents and real estate cases.”
When asked about potential alternatives to bail, Aidala was quick to call for more use of technology. One idea he floated involved defendants downloading apps on their cellphones that are equipped with GPS tracking systems and remind defendants of their trial dates.
“[You] can download an app on your phone that is a GPS tracking device,” he said. “They’ll keep it on themselves because these kids don’t want to give up their phone. I’m not talking about a big felony, I’m talking about for low-level crimes. Is it better than being on Rikers Island? This is an alternative that is better than Rikers Island.”
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