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Local Lawmakers Want Bail Required in Arson Cases

New York passed bail reform in 2019 to keep non-violent offenders out of jail as they wait for the case to make its way through the judicial system. Since its passage, the bail reform law has been met with both celebration and resistance.

The latest critique centers around arson crimes. Proponents of a change in the reform law believe that a local firefighter would still be alive if the alleged perpetrator could have been held on bail.

As criminal defense attorneys at a Long Island law firm, we’ve seen defendants unable to pay for high-quality legal representation languish in jail because they didn’t have the cash for bail. At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, we fight to keep our clients out of jail and will continue to do so.

In this article, we’ll look at the proposed new law. For context, let’s first look at the reform law that passed a couple of years ago.

Arson Eliminated from Bail in 2019 Reforms

As part of the New York’s 2019-2020 Fiscal Year Budget passed on April 1, 2019, cash bail was eliminated for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. People charged with these lower-level offenses would be automatically released. The intent was to keep people arrested for non-violent offenses out of jail unless and until they are convicted of a crime. The criminal justice system would be fairer for people living in poverty.

The reforms included in the budget included the following:

  • Eliminate cash bail on about 200 misdemeanor and non-violent felony crimes.
  • Accelerate the judicial process by enforcing deadlines for trials to take place: three months for misdemeanors and six months for felonies. Charges are dropped when deadlines aren’t met.
  • Require prosecutors and defense attorneys to share material that will be used in trial within 15 days of a person’s arraignment.

Four months after the change in bail went into effect, the state legislature amended the law to give judges more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release. The revision also broadened the crimes eligible for bail to include second-degree burglary, certain sex-trafficking offenses, and promoting an obscene sexual performance of a child.

Detractors of the bail reform say that allowing suspected criminals release frees them up to commit additional crimes. While some have pointed to high-profile examples, the statistics bear out that only about one-fifth of those released re-offend during the time they are waiting for their trial. A mere 2% of those released without bail were re-arrested for a violent felony. The vast majority of arrestees who are released return to their families and jobs.

Arson Crimes Become Bail-Eligible in Billy’s Law

The latest push to change bail reform comes in the wake of the tragic death of volunteer Assistant Chief William “Billy” Steinberg of the Forestburgh Fire Company. He died On Jan. 15 while responding to a fire that was allegedly set by a man who was arrested and released as a suspect in setting other fires in the community.

A group of lawmakers has introduced an act called “Billy’s Law” that would add third-degree and fourth-degree felony arson to the list of bail eligible offenses. These crimes are currently exempted from bail. Senate Bill S8181 was introduced on Jan. 31, 2022, by Sen. Mike Martucci. Assemblymembers Aileen M. Gunther, Marianne Buttenschon, and Mike Lawler introduced Assembly Bill A9381 on Feb. 23, 2022.

Another change that could be coming to Long Island is giving judges the authority to consider a defendant’s dangerousness when deciding whether to set bail. New York is the only state in the country that does not give judges this authority. NYC’s Mayor Eric Adams has expressed that he would embrace that revision.

Vigorous Defense for Arson Crimes

New York classifies arson crimes into five categories, from fifth-degree misdemeanor (least serious) to first-degree violent felony (most serious). Arson in the first degree can bring a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

All arson charges should be defended by experienced, intelligent legal counsel with considerable know-how.

Contact Long Island’s Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC immediately for top-notch criminal defense. Schedule a consultation by calling (516) 218-5131.