ALBANY, N.Y. — New York has enacted a new law authorizing charities to post bail of up to $2,000 for those charged with misdemeanors and unable to come up with the money.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat and sponsor, said innocent people will plead guilty when they can't afford bail, fearing consequences like losing jobs or child custody or eviction. The equally bad alternative is an unwarranted conviction, he said.
"This law takes an important step toward leveling the playing field for working people and creating a more just bail system," Rivera said.
The measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Wednesday, will take effect in 90 days. He called it "unacceptable" for defendants to have to spend jail time for low-level crimes they may not have committed because they can't meet the bail requirement.
The law authorizes registered charities to apply to the state Department of Financial Services, which regulates bail bond companies as insurers. They can pay $1,000 for five-year certification, though the fee can be waived. They cannot charge premiums or get paid for bail services.
Bail bond commercial premiums can range up to 10 percent for bonds up to $3,000, 8 percent for the balance up to $10,000 and 6 percent of bond amounts above that, according to the department.
"Justice should not depend on the size of your wallet," said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, a Queens Democrat and sponsor. "Charitable Bail Organizations could help thousands of New Yorkers who would otherwise languish in jails, often losing their jobs and facing long-term collateral consequences just because they can't afford a small amount of bail to fight their case."
Organizations will be able to post bail only in one county, except those based in New York City, which can operate in all five boroughs.
According to the lawmakers, the bill was based on a pilot project where the Bronx Freedom Fund was established and posted similar bails for three years. The result was 95 percent of defendants returned for every court date and half the cases were dismissed or otherwise resulted in no convictions.