NEW YORK - Steven Hayes first made the news last week when he was caught on camera sucker-punching an NYPD officer. However, just days after his arrest, he was released without bail, adding to the outrage of police unions who claimed he refused to be fingerprinted so that he was released without confirmation of his identity and a warrant check.
Meanwhile, Tiffany Harris was also arrested last week for an alleged hate crime assault of three Jewish women. She was also released without bail, and would be arrested the next day for another assault. Then, just yesterday, Harris was arrested for the third time in a week for skipping a check-in required under her supervised release.
"These are explicitly illustrative of what we’ve been concerned about," Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly said.
Hayes and Harris are among the estimated 20,000 people who will be released in the first year of New York's bail reform law which fully began on Wednesday. Legal experts say that until now, in many cases, the previous cash bail system would unfairly keep the poor imprisoned as the wealthy walked free.
"When I was a public defender a judge wouldn’t think twice about setting a $1,000 bail on a teenager," said Andrew Bernstein, a former Public Defender. "It may as well be a million dollars, that kid’s never getting out."
While the District Attorney’s Association of New York agrees that reforms are needed, some say that the bail reforms go too far and are already releasing suspects who pose a danger to others.
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Judges are no longer allowed to set bail on approximately 400 offenses, including sex crimes involving a child, stalking, jury tampering, arson, drug dealing, home burglary and even money laundering in support of terrorism. The new law also strips a judge’s ability to evaluate whether a suspect’s release endangers society.
"There is no longer a discretion of a human being who can assess the person in front of them," Donnelly said. "Can take a look at their criminal history, can look at their ties to the community."
Law enforcement officials say that by not taking those factors into account, the safety of other New Yorkers has been sacrificed.