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Governor Kathy Hochul: 'conflicting language' in bail reform laws has led to confusion for judges

In her budget proposal Wednesday, Governor Hochul discussed the need to restore judicial discretion by removing the least restrictive means standard
Posted at 6:43 PM, Feb 02, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — In the rollout of her proposed fiscal year 2024 Executive Budget, Governor Kathy Hochul said "conflicting language" in bail reform laws has led to confusion for judges.

In her budget proposal Wednesday, Hochul discussed the need to restore judicial discretion by removing the least restrictive means standard.

"We looked at this very thoughtfully and realized what judges are telling us that they don't have the clarity that they need to have when someone's before them and meets the standards of being bail eligible, in particular. You know, what criteria do they use to determine whether or not to impose bail or not or let someone out, impose bail or remand. . . . This is part of just fixing one area— that I think is going to be— it's just important to get that clarity for the judges," Hochul said.

On Thursday, 7 News anchor Lia Lando spoke with Retired Supreme Court Judge Penny Wolfgang about Hochul's comments. Wolfgang said, "the main issues were, in changing the law they took away discretion from the court."

Wolfgang has been very vocal about bail reform. She supports the concept but agrees changes are necessary. She told 7 News she's happy to hear the governor is working to make those changes.

Wolfgang added, "the law makes it very clear that there's no discretion on certain cases where they cannot set bail and that's all there is to it."

While Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is also pleased to hear the governor is working to change bail reform, he's worried legislators will make it difficult.

"The challenge is going to be the Assembly and the Senate. She has to convince the NYS Legislature to basically change the standard of bail now," Flynn explains.

Flynn also says it's not a full change she's proposing and "a full change would be to allow judges to factor in dangerousness of an individual, okay? So, she hasn't gone that far, but she's gone kind of halfway there in the sense that she's now proposed that judges no longer look at the least restrictive measure when they are evaluating whether to put bail on someone or not."

Flynn says this is a positive first step, but it remains to be seen whether the NYS Legislature views it that way.

During her State of the State Address in early January, the governor started the conversation on making changes to bail reform saying in part that there was room for improvement.

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