New York State Bar Association stands against bail reform rollbacks

May 10, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has expressed its opposition to the rollbacks of the state’s 2019 bail reform law. Sherry Levin Wallach, NYSBA President, released a statement outlining the association’s concerns with the changes, which were included as part of a budget package recently agreed upon by Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers.

“Legislating policy matters as a part of the state budget process results in a lack of transparency and debate and prevents those who are directly impacted by the changes from making their voices heard,” Levin Wallach said. “Though we disagree with the way these changes came about, we recognize that it is now incumbent on the members of the bar to work together to provide context to and analysis of this new legislation.

“In the coming weeks and months, the association will offer educational programs to enable practitioners to fully appreciate the changes in the law and thereby promote the best results possible under the circumstances.”

The 2019 bail reform law aimed to reduce pretrial detention for low-level, nonviolent offenders by limiting the use of cash bail. However, recent proposed changes to the law would remove the “least restrictive” requirement for judges when determining bail, effectively granting them greater discretion when setting bail for defendants.

The proposed bail law changes have divided Democratic lawmakers, with some arguing that cash bail disproportionately impacts low-income individuals and others viewing it as a public safety concern. Governor Hochul defended the changes, stating that they would allow judges to hold violent criminals accountable while maintaining a fair and accessible justice system that does not criminalize poverty.

However, opponents of the changes, such as Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, argue that they would undermine the 2019 bail reforms and result in increased pretrial detention. Critics contend that this would disproportionately affect low-income individuals and people of color.

The budget package, which includes the proposed bail law changes, also features a minimum wage increase and additional funding for New York City’s public transportation system. As the budget awaits legislative approval, opponents continue to scrutinize the details of the agreement, with some describing it as “anti-democratic.”

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