Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorney’s Offices End Requests for Bail in Most Misdemeanor Cases

January 9, 2018

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced a new effort to reduce inequality and unnecessary incarceration in the justice system. Beginning today, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer request that bail be set in most misdemeanor and violation cases. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office implemented its policy in April 2017.

“Over the past eight years we have made the advancement of criminal justice reform a part of the mission of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, right alongside our centuries-old founding mission of public safety,” said District Attorney Vance. “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. 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.

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

“When non-violent New Yorkers are jailed as a function of their inability to pay, we perpetuate inequality and mass incarceration, and bring about unnecessary immigration, employment, and family consequences. Beginning today, we will be guided by the presumption that bail is not appropriate for misdemeanor cases.

“I would like to thank Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for his leadership and consultation in crafting our new guidelines, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Office of Criminal Justice for their continued collaboration to expand alternatives to incarceration and reduce our City’s jail population.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said: “As part of my commitment to making criminal justice fairer and more equitable in Brooklyn, I instructed our Assistant District Attorneys that our policy is to not ask for bail in most misdemeanor cases. Bail shouldn’t be requested when we don’t intend to seek jail time and must never be used as leverage to obtain a guilty plea. The goal is not to punish poor defendants accused of crimes, nor to disrupt lives, or interfere with jobs or education, but rather to make bail decisions that are fair and consistent with public safety.”

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said: “Responsibility for the fair functioning of the criminal justice system is distributed over many independent entities, including City and State agencies, the courts, defense lawyers as well as district attorneys. District Attorneys, in particular, play a key and gateway role in ensuring the fair administration of justice, including in advising judges on whether to release or hold a defendant. Today’s announcement is a key step forward in district attorneys’ efforts to ensure there is a consistent and fair approach to release that is linked to risk. We applaud this important step that is consistent with our shared vision for a new era in justice.”

New Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Policy

Under new misdemeanor bail guidelines effective today, the District Attorney’s Office will operate from the presumption that no bail is to be requested in misdemeanor and violation cases. Prosecutors have been instructed that bail may be appropriate in the following cases:

  • Cases where the People are seeking a jail sentence of 30 days or more as an appropriate disposition of a misdemeanor case
  • Cases involving a victim[1] (e.g., domestic violence, sex crimes, child abuse, assault cases, subway grinders, etc.).
  • Cases where the defendant injures a police officer, firefighter, EMT or other such public servant, or violently resists arrest.
  • Cases where the defendant has a prior violent felony conviction in the past 10 years, or a prior serious, non-violent felony conviction (e.g., A-I or A-II offenses, Sex Trafficking, Robbery in the Third Degree, Conspiracy to commit a violent felony) in the past 10 years.
  • Cases where the defendant has a prior (felony or misdemeanor) sex crime conviction.
  • Cases where the defendant has a pending felony case, or multiple pending misdemeanor cases.
  • Cases where the defendant is on parole, probation, or supervised release.
  • Cases where the defendant is a priority offender (e.g., cases involving a CSU arrest alert or pre-made bail application).
  • Cases where the defendant has an extensive criminal history, or a history of failing to appear in court where supervised release is not appropriate.

The District Attorney’s Office will continue to recommend community-based supervised release in appropriate cases. The District Attorney’s Office’s new policy was crafted in consultation with Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who has promulgated similar guidelines in Kings County.

Closing Rikers

Under District Attorney Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has helped lay the groundwork for closing Rikers by:

1. Shoplifting cases should not be considered as “victim” cases. That being said, bail may be appropriate for individuals with extensive shoplifting histories, or for whom the People are seeking 30 or more days jail.