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Lancman proposes bail process changes

Councilman Rory Lancman wants judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Patrick Donachie

Judges should have the ability to make decisions on bail with the knowledge of how much defendants can afford to pay, according to City Council legislation proposed by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice works with an external service provider to offer judges in most criminal court arraignments information about the defendants, including contact information and whether the defendant is a flight risk.

Lancman’s proposed legislation would mandate that the service provider also supply judges with information about the amount of bail a defendant can reasonably afford. The councilman said bail amounts of $500 or $1,000 were often seen as a kind of “standard” for criminal defendants without regard to their ability to pay.

“This kind of becomes a default minimum, because for the professionals in the room, that’s no big deal,” he said. “But for the defendants that can be a big deal.”

The new regulation stipulates that the organization that interviews a defendant prior to arraignment to assess the defendant’s risk of flight must also determine how much money the defendant could reasonably pay for bail. The bill would be effective 90 days after it becomes law if it is passed.

Lancman said the only purpose of bail was to motivate attendance at court proceedings, and that he thought bail that individuals were unable to pay was by definition “excessive” and in violation of the Constitution.

“They’re paying for their poverty because they’re sitting in Riker’s and can’t afford to get out,” he said.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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