Serious Questions Arise about Proposed New Hampshire Bail Reform Bill

Senate Bill 556, Criminal Justice Reform and Economics Act of 2018 , was introduced to the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2018.  The bill proposes changes to bail setting procedures including releasing most people on their own recognizance without the requirement of a secured bond.  The legislation requires that a court “shall not impose a financial condition that will result in the pretrial detention of a person solely as a result of that financial condition.”  While proponents of the bill argue that taxpayers will by unburdened by not having to pay to imprison people, many skeptics wonder who will pay for the pretrial services and where the financial burden will shift when law enforcement must track down fugitives instead of bail bondsmen.  Skeptics of the bill also worry about public safety.  Law enforcement agents are concerned that the bill will allow serious, violent offenders to be released back on the street posing a threat to the public-at-large.

One grave concern presented across the board has been the fear that the decision to release a person on their own recognizance is being taken out of the hands of judges.  Judges are elected or appointed to the bench because of their expertise.  They have sat in courtrooms for most of their careers and generally have an innate sense about people.  Most criminal judges have a pretty could indication of who will show up at court and who won’t.  It is something that a computer system just can’t determine.  Risk assessment is best done by those with experience.  Those that can look a defendant in the eyes, read their demeanor and make determinations based on experience.  Replacing that judgement goes against everything that our criminal justice system is built on.  The New Hampshire bill has not been put to a vote, yet, but we will be watching closely to see what happens.

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