Courts cutting bad guys loose

Bronx Hall of Justice

As a cavalry of out–of-borough judges help bring order to the backlogged Bronx court system, a performance review shows high-risk pre-trial suspects are being let go.

The Criminal Justice Indicator, compiled by the Bloomberg Administration’s Criminal Justice Coordinator, found 47% of “high risk” felony defendants were released while waiting for their cases to be heard in 2012, outpacing the 33% citywide average.

“High risk” defendants were classified by the report as those not recommended for release.

“That’s extremely frightening,” said Michele Rodney, dean of Monroe College’s School for Criminal Justice. “The community senses that, and wonders why the court system or judge would let them go.”

A suspect’s release happens at arraignment, where defense and assistant district attorneys argue for the merits of whether bail is necessary. In the end, the ultimate arbiter of a defendant’s release is the judge, said Steven Reed, spokesman for Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.

But David Bookstaver, spokesman for the New York State Unified Court System, said the state’s bail statutes are to blame.

“Bail can only be used to ensure that defendants return to court,” he said. “Bail cannot be used for preventative detention.”

The figure is just one aspect of the report, which also showed the borough’s court system ranking first among the city’s five boroughs in low conviction rates and slow arraignment process, lasting an average 24 hours.

The report even highlighted the nagging, albeit improved, slowdown of cases under review. The cases have been so backed up that the courts needed 10 extra judges to help clear the backlog.

The report showed 66% of felony cases on the docket for over six months or more this year, compared to 71% from December 2012. But the report also showed 32% of felony cases are pending up to six months, up from 29% in December of last year.

The findings come after state chief judge Jonathan Lippman vowed in January to clear up the overburdened Bronx caseload by June, bringing in ten judges.

“The backlog for cases two years or older has been reduced by 50%,” boasted Bookstaver.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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