Governor Malloy’s ground-breaking bail reform bill helps indigent Connecticut defendants

Goshen Fair 2015

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently signed a groundbreaking bill to reform bail in Connecticut.   As a result, hundreds of impoverished defendants will no longer stay in jail as they await trial merely because they cannot afford bail.

The bill was widely supported by the State’s Republicans and Democrats and passed with ease in June.

At the bill’s signing, Gov. Malloy noted that the bail reform bill would focus on the “unintended consequences” of a justice system that has had a harmful impact on public safety pretrial.

The Governor noted that the impact of bail laws can be devastating to people who are jailed for even a couple of days who have been accused of crimes and cannot make bail.  They could lose their housing or employment, which can only aggravate the flux in an already stressed life that could lead to committing crime.

For years, and led by Malloy’s criminal reform efforts, Connecticut has been focused on lowering crime rates.

The bail reform law became effective in July of 2017.

It stops courts from ordering bonds on misdemeanor defendants, with exceptions including family violence; or where someone is considered a flight risk, may obstruct the legal system, or harm someone else or themselves.

The Pretrial Justice Institute, which advocates for bail reform expects this bill to have a major impact on the Connecticut justice system, as 75 percent of criminal cases in Connecticut are misdemeanors.

No More Cash Bonds in Connecticut

It also bars judges from assigning cash-only bail, where defendants must pay the entire amount of the bond to be released jail. Now, defendants will have a choice to secure their release by paying part of the bail, while some will be released without any bail at all – just a promise to appear (called “PTAs”) in court for their future court dates.

Bail / Bond Changes in Misdemeanor Cases

The law requires that a defendant alleged to have committed a misdemeanor who stays in jail because they cannot pay bail must have a bail review hearing within two weeks of their arraignment, which was shortened from 30 days.

At later bail hearings, Connecticut courts must remove the financial conditions of a defendant’s release unless the prosecution successfully argues that the defendant is either a danger to the community or has the risk of flight.

At the request of the bail bond industry, there will also be a study exploring the feasibility to impose an additional fee on defendants who can afford bail.

Bail Now Not Only for the Wealthy

Many local and states jurisdictions have passed bail reforms recently supported in part by civil rights groups that have challenged the constitutionality “wealth-based bail practices.”

Daily, across the U.S., 450,000 individuals are in jail pretrial. Many are charged with low-level crimes and are incarcerated only because they cannot afford bail.

This costs taxpayers $14 billion yearly, or $38 million daily.

Connecticut thinks it will save $30 million by 2019 by shrinking the incarcerated population.

Stamford-based criminal attorney Mark Sherman noted, “The new bail reform law helps defendants, especially low-income families, by doing away with a unilateral approach and safely releasing people who are no harm to the community.”

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