The Conference of Chief Judges has adopted a resolution that calls for states to overhaul the way their court systems make bail determinations for pretrial defendants.
Instead of simply relying on a bond schedule, judges reviewing new arrests should use an evidence-based assessment of whether the defendant will be a danger to the community and is likely to show up at court dates, the resolution states.
Judges should also start with the presumption that defendants in non-violent cases would get a non-bond pretrial release unless proven they would be a danger or flight risk, which could avoid many of the problems cited in a recent Conference of State Court Administrators policy paper.
That policy paper describes how judges make thousands of decisions each day that have significant impact on low-income defendants, who sometimes cannot afford to pay a bond on even the most minor charges and instead wait in jail awaiting trial for longer periods of time than their potential sentences. Higher bonds can also mean higher costs for local communities, which must pay for jailing pretrial detainees often needlessly, the policy paper says.
The Conference of Chief Justices agreed to the resolution at its mid-year meeting in Puerto Rico last week.
New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on Tuesday took up the issue in his 2013 State of the Judiciary message, saying that a "coherent, rational approach" is needed for a "vitally important part of the criminal justice system that has been untouched by reform."
Lippman told the New York Law Journal that one ramification is clear: If his proposals are enacted, the bail bond industry in New York would be "basically irrelevant."
"It's a travesty that judges, prosecutors, don't make decisions about a person's liberty, that they're made on the basis of a profit-making money enterprise," Lippman said. "That that's the person who has in many instances the critical role in determining a person's liberty is outrageous. This is not something we can be proud of."