As our colleagues in the Michigan Legislature weigh whether to take up a bail reform proposal, we think it’s important to take a step back look at the concerning results produced by similar reforms made in states like New York and California.
House Bills 5436-43, introduced in the Michigan House last fall, would severely limit judicial discretion, and require our local judges to release anyone who is arrested for certain crimes without bail, regardless of the circumstances involved.
Our experience as former law enforcement officers has taught us that there’s a lot more to consider about a crime than just the charges faced by a criminal defendant.
An individual could display violence or be a longtime repeat offender and still be charged with a “low-level” crime and handed a get-out-of-jail free card by these bills.
In New York, where similar bail reforms took effect in January 2020, prosecutors and law enforcement officers are reporting a notable increase in violent crime – a trend they directly attribute to repeat offenders being released back onto the streets after arrest.
According to an analysis done by former New York City Executive District Attorney Jim Quinn, 43 percent of people let go with no bail on a felony charge in New York City between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021 were rearrested while their case was pending.
“Think about what that means,” Quinn wrote in an op-ed published by the New York Post. “A defendant who has a prior conviction or a pending case gets arrested for a felony. A judge reviews his record and finds that he is a risk of fleeing. The judge cannot set bail and releases the defendant on non-monetary conditions. Almost half of them, 43 percent, get rearrested while their case is pending.”
The re-arrest rates for defendants with pending cases or prior convictions released without paying bail were 57 percent for home burglaries, 66 percent for commercial burglaries, 58 percent for grand larceny and 68 percent for petit larceny.
Offenders in New York have become emboldened to break the law repeatedly, especially as an increasing number face slap-on-the-wrist consequences for their actions.
Charles Barry became pseudo-famous last year for his “bail reform is lit” commentary after being arrested for the 139th time. These offenses were considered “low-level” and thus judges had no discretion under New York’s bail reform law to do anything but let Mr. Barry go free to continue terrorizing the community.
Similarly, the bail reform legislation being proposed in Michigan restricts the discretion of judges to impose bail based on what is labeled “low-level” crimes, thus ignoring important distinctions such as prior failures to appear or criminal history.
Arbitrarily labeling crimes as low-level or high-level and limiting judicial discretion based on those classifications is a dangerous road to go down. The public puts its trust in our locally elected judges and expects them to weigh the circumstances of each case before them in the interest of public safety.
To be clear, we’re not saying there’s nothing that can or should be done to better Michigan’s criminal justice system and improve due process. We’re simply pointing out that this bail reform proposal hurts public safety without addressing the root causes of the problem.
In recent years, all the focus has been on reforming the courts, police, and other aspects of the system to assist criminal offenders. Part of being a free a society and making our own choices is owning those decisions and accepting the consequences for them. Rather than blaming the police or the criminal justice system, we should be focused on fixing the societal problems that have resulted in increased violent crime.
We spent our time on the streets defending victims from predators, and we will not be any less vigilant as legislators. We must continue to support our police, give judges the discretion to keep their communities safe, and make sure crime victims are supported.
State Rep. Mike Mueller, of Linden, retired from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office in 2018 after serving 19 years as a sheriff’s deputy in Livingston and Washtenaw counties. He represents portions of Genesee and norther Oakland counties in the Michigan House.
State Rep. TC Clements served as a police officer in Florida and as Deputy Chief of Police at a department in Maine before moving to Temperance, Michigan, and opening a small travel business. He now represents a portion of Monroe County in the Michigan House.
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