By Senator James Seward
Hold it Judge Judy Ė not so fast on the bail for that guy! Letís be more careful when deciding who should get bail.
Too many violent crimes have been perpetrated by criminals out on bail. Our paramount concern when crafting laws and policies should be to safeguard the innocent. With this in mind, there is no good reason why we shouldnít allow courts to consider a host of relevant factors Ė such as a defendantís criminal background and whether or not he posee a threat to an alleged victim Ė when setting bail. This is common sense and thatís why the state senate has passed legislation to give courts more discretion.
Hereís the sad tale. Jeff Cahill viciously attacked his wife Jill with a baseball bat, striking her more then seven times and nearly killing her because Jill was divorcing him. While out on bail for this attack, Jill had requested and been granted an order of protection against Cahill which required him to stay away from Jill and their children.
Shortly after his release, Cahill began to research ways to poison his wife and eventually was able to secure some potassium cyanide by posing as an employee at a local company. A week before he would murder his wife, Cahill was caught posing as hospital staff in Jillís room. A week later, Cahill returned dressed as a janitor and poisoned and killed his wife. If the courts that had set bail for Cahill after the baseball bat attack had been able to consider the brutal nature of his attack, the resulting injuries, and Jillís safety against future acts of violence, Jill might be alive today.
The New York State Senate has just passed legislation (S.1160) with my full support that would expand the number of factors courts consider when they are setting bail for defendants in order to better protect crime victims and communities. Itís intended to stop incidents like the Cahillsí.
When a person accused of a crime is likely to repeat his or her behavior, or ignore orders of protection, his victims will remain at risk and a judge must be able to take those factors into consideration when deciding whether or not bail should be granted. The legislation approved by the state senate will ensure that victims and witnesses are kept safe until justice can be served.
Under current law, the only factor courts are permitted to consider when setting bail is whether a person charged with a crime will appear in court. The bill approved by the senate would allow the courts to consider the safety of the victim, the nature of the offense, or the impact of the offense on the victim, witnesses, or the victimís family members when determining whether to set bail at all, and if so, in what amount.
New York courts will be permitted to consider such circumstances when setting bail, particularly in domestic violence cases where the offender is likely to repeat his or her behavior and ignore restraining orders.
Letís move forward with caution and let judges look at all circumstances, including the future possibility of violence, before setting bail for criminals.
Senator Sewardís office web site is www.senatorjimseward.com.