If you’re ever charged with a crime, the law supposes that you’re innocent until proven guilty. There’s no second standard for innocence or guilt that’s written into the law and based on your race or wealth. But that second, unwritten standard has long wormed its way into law enforcement.
This takes us to the recent controversy surrounding New York’s new bail reform. The people who oppose it claim that it’s putting criminals back on the streets and encouraging them to commit more crime. They point to some choice, anecdotal evidence. But what if this bail reform is about more than one month’s crime rate increase? What if it’s about your right to the presumption of innocence?
Putting New York’s bail reform into perspective
It’s important to remember where bail falls in line with all the things that happen leading up to and after an arrest:
- Pretty much everyone knows that you don’t have to be guilty to get arrested. All the police need to make an arrest is a “reasonable cause.” And the definition of “reasonable,” here, often depends on the officer making the arrest.
- So, you’re not guilty just because you get arrested. But once you get arrested, the police will most likely search, process and question you. You don’t have to answer their questions. Instead, you have the rights to remain silent and to seek counsel. You exercise these rights to avoid incriminating yourself.
- Next comes the arraignment and the plea process. Then, if you maintain your innocence, you have the right to a trial. At this point, you are still presumed innocent. Maybe the police don’t like to think that way, but the law says that’s what you are. And it’s at this point that New York’s bail reform comes into play. As one member of the Black Public Defender Association noted, “Bail reform addresses people who are legally innocent.”
Bail reform doesn’t put convicts on the streets. It allows more people to resume their lives as they await the chance to defend their names. After all, cash bail is nothing new. It’s long been a part of the system. It’s just been a part of the system that the rich could leverage easily and that the less wealthy found more cumbersome.
Accordingly, the people debating this bail reform may want to think twice. There are reasons to take the recent surge in the crime rate with a grain of salt. Instead, people may want to pay more attention to the presumption of innocence. There’s a reason the reforms went into place alongside reforms to the discovery process. Those reforms made it easier for defense attorneys to access the materials they need to defend their clients. Why? Because you’re supposed to have a fair shot at justice.
A chance for you to get the justice you deserve
A conviction can throw your life into disarray. So can an arrest. Even when you’re not guilty and know a jury will see things your way, an arrest can still be stressful. It costs you time and may damage your reputation. Previously, it could also lead to a lengthy pre-trial detention—the sort that studies have repeatedly linked to increased crime. But thanks to bail reform, your arrest may not disrupt your life as fully as before.
You may get back to your home, your family and your job. You can work with your attorney to mount your defense. And you can aim for the sort of justice you deserve. Even if you’re not rich and white.