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Gov. Kathy Hochul blames judges for misunderstanding bail laws; critics say governor doesn't understand her own law

Gov. Kathy Hochul, critics pointing fingers over state bail laws
Gov. Kathy Hochul, critics pointing fingers over state bail laws 04:03

NEW YORK -- Gov. Kathy Hochul is blaming judges for misunderstanding bail laws, while some critics argue it's the governor who doesn't understand her own law.

Hochul is trying to blame judges for letting some people who are considered dangerous go without bail, but the thing is New York is the only state where judges are not supposed to consider a person's dangerousness when deciding their bail. They're only supposed to set bail based on if the defendant is a flight risk. The question is, does that make bail reform ineffective?

Bail reform is back under a microscope after Amira Hunter was arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday for the second time in a week. The 23-year-old was arraigned days earlier for allegedly hitting a subway performer in the head with a metal bottle, and even though prosecutors asked at the time she be held on $15,000 bail, the judge let her go without bail.

In February, a migrant was re-arrested, accused of shoplifting after being released without bail for his alleged role in the attack on two NYPD officers earlier this year.

These high-profile cases prompted Hochul to say this about the bail laws:  "It is becoming clear to me that we need judges trained in the changes that we made."

Hochul amended the laws last year to give judges more discretion when setting bail for eligible offenses.

"We shouldn't blame judges for making release decisions that jeopardize public safety because that's not part of what they're supposed to do," said René Ropac, senior research associate with Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College.

Ropac is leading a series of studies on bail reform in New York. His latest report found that eliminating bail for most misdemeanors did not lead to more repeat offenders, but it did increase recidivism for people facing more serious charges.

"For quote unquote high-risk individuals, we found recidivism increases because of bail reform," he said.

The governor's office told us it's working with the state Office of Court Administration to require judges receive one to six hours of additional training each year "regarding bail, recognizance and commitment procedures."

"The governor is trying to have her cake and eat it too here," retired Queens Supreme Court judge George Grasso said.

He says you can give judges all the training in the world, but it will do little to change their decision-making under current laws.

"When you go to judicial training, I've been to many of them ... Judges are properly instructed, 'You cannot consider the dangerousness of the individual,'" Grasso said.

New York is the only state where judges are not allowed to consider a defendant's danger to public safety when setting bail.

"If the judge does that analysis and the person is deemed not to be a risk of flight, then just because they're eligible for bail doesn't mean the judges are then authorized to impose it," said Arielle Reid, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Decarceration Project.

Reid explains the state's ban on considering public safety for bail dates back to the '60s and is meant to protect a defendant's innocence until proven guilty.

"Governor Hochul's assertion ... betrays her own sort of misunderstanding of the way the bail laws function," she said.

The governor's office points out that judges can consider a defendant's criminal history, but experts tell CBS New York that is still only in the context of if they're considered a flight risk.

A spokesperson for the New York Court Office of Administration says they're working with the governor to continue trainings for judges.

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