NY Bail Fees For Minor Crimes Create Debtor’s Prison

In a report released last week from Human Rights Watch and profiled in the New York Times, the country learned what many within the city already knew—if you’re poor, you’re more likely to be in jail. The courts have created a situation where people are sent to jail and unable to raise even a $1,000 bond, making them a resident of Riker’s Island for a short stay, even when facing charges as minor as possession of marijuana or jumping a subway turnstile.

Low level misdemeanors, also known as quality-of-life crimes are on the rise. More people are being charged with these relatively minor crimes every day. In most of these cases defendants are released on their own recognizance and ordered to return to court for their trial date without having to post any bail. This isn’t always the case, however.

In a little more than 19,000 cases in 2008, bail was set at less than $1,000. Of those cases, 87% didn’t post bail and instead waited in jail for their trial dates. The average jail stay? 15.7 days.

Three-fourths of defendants were released on their own recognizance, so the likelihood of you waiting in jail until trial isn’t that profound. However, when you are charged with jumping a turnstile and spend 15 days in jail for it—that’s an outrage.

The study points to another effect of this practice and that’s when people who cannot afford bail opt to accept a plea agreement rather than spend time in jail awaiting trial to fight the charges. This means they plead guilty to avoid the potential pretrial jail term. A permanent criminal record in exchange for avoiding a jail stint—not a great bargain for sure.

Critics of the study state the research didn’t take into account the criminal history of the defendants or the fact that they might have other charges pending as well. One person remarked that the judges setting bail know full well about the defendant’s financial situation and are not unfairly doling out jail time at all.

But, the bottom line is: is it worth the cost of 15 days in jail for a crime that is punishable by a meager fine and rarely any additional jail time? Who is benefitting by this practice—as it sure isn’t the taxpayers or the defendants.

If you are facing charges in New York, whether they are for a felony or misdemeanor, a criminal defense attorney can argue that you pose no risk and that you should be released pending trial. Your attorney is there to represent your best interests and to ensure you get fair treatment within the courts.

Contact our offices today for a free consultation on your case.

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