Is Cash Bail Done in Manhattan?

Fresh off his campaign contribution scandal, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. had an epiphany.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office will no longer seek bail for most misdemeanor and violation cases, DA Cy Vance Jr. said Tuesday.

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” Whether this means what it seems to mean has yet to be seen, but assuming good faith on Cy’s part, and wiggle words like “most” misdemeanors, this is certainly a wonderful, if not miraculous, policy shift. But why?

“A systemic reliance on bail for low-level offenses is out of step with a reformed, 21st-century justice system,” Vance said. “It is fundamentally unfair and does not make us safer, given the range of effective alternatives to pretrial detention now at our disposal.”

This wasn’t a “systemic reliance,” but the individualized requests by baby prosecutors in his employ doing arraignments one at a time. Nobody forced them to seek bail, yet they did. Of course it was fundamentally unfair and didn’t make us safer, but we’ve known that for years and he didn’t care before.

And what does he mean by “given the range of effective alternatives”? Who knows*?

Prosecutors will continue to ask for bail in cases involving violence, including domestic violence as well as sex crimes. It will also be sought against defendants charged with injuring a police or peace officer, Vance said.

For the unwary but progressive, this might seem totally reasonable. After all, violent people can be a danger, and certainly people charged with “domestic violence as well as sex crimes” deserve to be locked up, regardless of the fact they’re presumed innocent.

But this is a flagrant violation of New York law. Unlike other states, the only reason bail may be imposed is to assure a return to court. The offense charged is relevant only to the extent that a defendant might flee because of the harsh penalties he faces. It is irrelevant that the crime affects women most. Notably, the article neglects to mention that Cy’s statement is in direct contravention of the law.

“Our reform mission requires that we continually evaluate the justice system we have in the context of the city we are today, and identify practices which result in unfair or unnecessary consequences for New Yorkers accused of crimes, and for the strength of our communities,” Vance said.

“In light of our record-low crime, our national imperative for justice reform, and our moral, generational obligation to close Rikers, it is clear that ending cash bail is an idea whose time has come.”

Certainly heart-warming sentiments carefully crafted to make people forget that Cy killed the prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and remind New Yorkers that he’s a reformer, so they should like him again. But if he means this, then why only do a small part of the job?

Rikers, affectionately known as the Rock by visitors subject to sexual assault by guards in the bathroom, has an awful lot of pre-trial detainees there being held for the inability to make $1000 bail because Cy’s kids didn’t get the memo Cy had yet to issue. If there is a “moral, generational obligation” to close Rikers, there is nothing preventing his prosecutors from moving to release the Rock residents. Cut them loose. ROR them. Let them go, you moral fella.

No, there’s nothing in his epiphany about throwing open the doors to Rikers. Or the barge. Or any other pre-trial detention facility where these same poor miscreants are being held, some for years, awaiting trial. Why are new arrests different than the ones from last week? Or last year? Each defendant has a prosecutor on his case. Cut them loose. Do it today.

And there’s one more piece to Cy’s epiphany, that it reveals the failure of arraignment judges to do their job. If there is no reason to impose bail, then it’s not merely a problem of Cy’s kids seeking it, but criminal court judges imposing it.

Then there are the arraignment judges, who fix needless bail in the first place, which is then perpetuated by subsequent judges who pretend that the bail was a deeply thoughtful, deliberate decision that should not be upset in the absence of the Pope’s vouching for the defendant.

Prosecutors can ask for bail all they want. There are supposed to be grown-ups in the room who tell them “no.” Cy has now embarrassed the adults by saying they were mere obsequious toadies who did as prosecutors asked, even though it was completely unnecessary and, Cy’s word, immoral. So there ya go, judges. You’ve set needless and immoral bail. DANY says so. Are you proud of yourselves now?

Want to fix the problem? Stop setting bail for people who don’t pose a factually justified risk of flight. Stop setting bail for people who are charged with a petty offense. Stop setting bail for anyone at $1000 or less. And that can be fixed starting today, and will be fully fixed by this time next month.

Of course Cy is pandering to the public. He’s in an elected office, and has to shed that Weinstein monkey off his back. His statement is nonsensical, and whether his office actually does what he says it will has yet to be seen. But, my dear judges, he threw you under the bus, and you deserved it. You chose to be the prosecution’s enablers.

Now that Cy Vance has made his announcement, ignored the law, forgotten about the thousands still needlessly held immorally on the Rock and burned the judges who allowed this to happen, what do you plan to do about it? Let them go. Let them all go.** Unless there is a clear basis to believe they are a risk of flight, apply the law and let them go.

*Yes, there is a wealth of alternatives, from supervision to GPS ankle bracelets. Each of these comes with a cost and a burden. Without any specifics, however, the burden of these unspoken alternatives can’t be addressed, but each can be as bad as, if not worse than, cash bail.

**The silence from the deeply progressive former-prosecutor turned Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark, on the subject of bail (not to mention sexual assault by Rikers prison guards) is deafening.


7 thoughts on “Is Cash Bail Done in Manhattan?

  1. Onlymom

    So basically he’s a typical two-faced politician just out for himself. Color us surprised! Oh wait that was the 2 year old in romper room that was surprised anyone over the age of 3 knows the best way to know when a politician is being untruthful…..their lips are moving

  2. Jyjon

    I saw the headline and read it as he was gonna try to keep everyone in jail.
    As I read I thought it was odd that he wanted to give violent people the chance to get out on bail, and force the others have to stay.

  3. B. McLeod

    In the olden days, “jurisdiction” of governments was determined by their range of effective alternatives. In those days, the range of effective alternatives was only a few miles, but today, the range of effective alternatives can span oceans and continents (so, many governments have just gone to asserting 200-mile coastal limits, even though the range of effective alternatives is greater).

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