Bail is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Depending on factors like the seriousness of the allegations and the suspect’s prior history of offenses, bail amounts can range from being low and affordable to being so expensive they effectively prohibit release from custody. But how is bail determined for the most serious felony offenses, like murder? Are murder suspects considered eligible to be released on bail? Homicide attorney Seth Koslow explains some of the basic rules and limitations on how and when bail may be set.
Bail for Murder Charges Too Costly for Most Defendants
As we discussed in a previous article about the New York arraignment process, bail is set by a judge, who refers to a document called a bail schedule for guidance in making his or her determination. The judge has two key concerns when setting bail:
- Ensuring, as far as possible, that the suspect will return for future court hearings. If the suspect fails to appear, he or she will (1) lose the opportunity to recover the bail money in the future, and (2) be criminally charged with bail jumping, which has the potential to be graded as a felony. If a suspect seems likely to flee the state or country, he or she will be designated a “flight risk.” The judge may deny bail or set bail at a high amount to minimize the chance of release.
- Protecting the safety of the general public. Toward this end, judges often set enormously high bail amounts for persons charged with violent crimes such as robbery, sexual assault, and homicide.
Needless to say, this second point is particularly significant for murder suspects. While bail is not necessarily impossible, judges are disinclined to permit the release of murder suspects and therefore, typically set bail at a tremendously high level. The standard bail rate for murder charges is astronomically high at $1 million. Attempted murder charges have a standard bail rate of $500,000.
Attorney Group Calls for New York Bail Reforms
Unfortunately, it isn’t just violent felonies which have the potential to carry tremendous bail costs. While nonviolent misdemeanors generally receive lower bail amounts, even defendants charged with minor crimes are not impervious to extraordinary expenses. This issue was noted by the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) in a formal recommendation issued in January of 2014, titled “New York State Bail Reform Recommendations,” which stated the following:
In 2011, approximately 50 percent of the people on whom bail was set were charged only with misdemeanors… This is a huge deprivation of liberty that exacts serious costs on individuals, on families, and on taxpayers.
To address these issues, the NYCLA called for the following changes to New York’s current bail system:
- Legislative changes in accordance with American Bar Association (ABA) guidelines. The recommendation noted these guidelines “lay out timelines and standards of review and proof that are necessary to ensure that defendants who are detained on public safety grounds are not detained arbitrarily and for extended of periods of time without a mandatory review of their bail conditions.”
- Mandatory recorded statements explaining the reasons behind setting bail at a certain amount. The NYCLA argues that committing these reasons to paper (or a computer system) would “facilitate an efficient and thorough review of all bail determinations.”
- The NYCLA states that currently, the most common bail options are (1) cash, and (2) bail bonds. The NYCLA recommends requiring judges to grant an additional third option, which would arguably have the effect of “be[ing] less burdensome and thus more feasible for the defendant to make.”
- In addition to directly reforming bail laws themselves, the NYCLA also recommends reforming underlying criminal statutes and aspects of the penal code. One of the NYCLA’s recommendations — “decriminalizing the public possession of small amounts of marijuana” — has already been adopted. Toward the end of 2014, marijuana possession in amounts less than 25 grams became a violation instead of a crime, punishable only with small fines. New York City residents should note that possession of marijuana in amounts of 25 grams or more is still illegal and can lead to incarceration.
If you or one of your loved ones has been arrested in New York City, it is absolutely critical that you have legal support from an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can fight the charges and protect your legal rights. Seth Koslow has years of experience representing clients charged with homicide, sex crimes, aggravated assault, and other serious felonies. To set up a free and completely confidential case evaluation, call Seth Koslow right away at (347) 561-0025.