ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to ask the State Legislature to eliminate cash bail for numerous crimes, and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended to balance the criminal justice system further for indigent defendants, the New York Times is reporting.
The governor reportedly plans to outline the proposals Wednesday during his State of the State address, as lawmakers meet in Albany and prepare to start a legislative agenda that is expected to focus on the environment and education as well as the justice system.
The package of criminal justice bills would aim to reduce delays during trials, ban asset seizures in cases where there has been no conviction and make it easier for former convicts to get a job after leaving prison in addition to revamping bail and evidence laws.
Governor Cuomo, a Democrat reported to have presidential aspirations, is promoting the bills as “the most progressive set of reforms in the nation,” his aides said per the Times. “For far too long, our antiquated criminal justice system has created a two-tier system where outcomes depend purely on economic status — undermining the bedrock principle that one is innocent until proven guilty,” Cuomo said in a statement outlining the proposals.
Political momentum to abolish or limit the use of monetary bail has grown countrywide in recent years, as critics have pointed out it discriminates against people who cannot pay. In New Jersey, a law went into effect last year that has nearly eliminated cash bail by mandating that state judges release most defendants unless they are a proven flight risk or threat to public safety.
The governor’s proposals are likely to meet opposition from police unions, the bail bond industry, district attorneys and Republican lawmakers who control the Senate. The fate of the bills is far from clear in the legislative session and may depend on what incentives Cuomo can offer to the Republican opponents.
The measure that Governor Cuomo is proposing would eliminate cash bail for people facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felonies. Defendants would, instead, be released, either on their own promise to return to court, or with some other conditions imposed by the judge.
Judges could still impose bail for serious violent crimes, like felony assault or rape, but only after reviewing a defendant’s finances per the report.
We will stream Cuomo’s State of the State address, live, at 1 PM on our Facebook page.