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McManus v. Horn (Challenging trial court’s use of “cash-only” bail)

  • In the 1960s, the State Legislature reformed the state criminal code to provide a range of less restrictive bail alternatives in response to national and international reform efforts aimed at ensuring that pre-trial release was equally available to rich and poor.
  • Research overwhelmingly shows that permitting cash-only bail unjustly discriminates against the poor and people of color. (In New York City, black and Latino people constitute 89 percent of all pretrial detainees held for misdemeanors on bail of $1,000 or less.) Pretrial detention leaves people unable to work, attend school, care for their families, or effectively participate in their own defense. It leads to disproportionally higher rates of guilty pleas and longer sentences for the poor and people of color. Cash-only bail effectively keeps people in jail for no other reason than the fact that they are poor, and violates the constitutional prohibition against excessive bail.
  • The NYCLU also maintains that requiring alternatives to cash-only bail provides an important safeguard given New York State’s dysfunctional public defense system, in which poor defendants often appear at arraignment without any defense counsel present to argue on their behalf for reasonable bail that they can afford.

In March 2012, the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that state law requires trial judges to set at least two forms of bail for criminal defendants. The following organizations joined the NYCLU on the amicus brief: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Aid Society, the New York State Defenders Association, the Center for Appellate Litigation, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Pretrial Justice Institute, Five Borough Defenders and Human Rights Watch.

New York State Court of Appeals, Index No. 34 (amicus)

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