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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis’ new district attorney is pushing forward bail reform to “level the playing field” despite critics accusing progressive policies of increasing crime.
“It will level the playing field so that it is no longer two court systems,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told Fox News. “People with money are bailed out, people with no money are languishing behind bars,”
Mulroy was sworn in on Aug. 31, making him the first Democrat to hold the post in decades. He campaigned on a progressive platform, promising to prioritize violent crime, fix the ‘broken bail system’, implement restorative justice and expand the jurisdiction of juvenile court to 25 years. , among other policies.
“We need to move to a system where … the presumption is in favor of bail” except in cases of “very serious violent crimes” or if there is “specific credible evidence that this particular defendant is either a danger to community or a risk of theft,” Mulroy said.
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Mulroy expects to have individualized hearings where judges set realistic bail amounts based on the defendant’s ability to pay.
“We have a system in this country – and it’s true here in our county – where you have a lot of people who are locked up waiting for their day in court,” Mulroy told Fox News. “They have not been convicted of a crime.”
“They wait months, years, sometimes for trial, just because they can’t afford cash bail,” he said.
About a quarter of those detained in Shelby County wait 500 days before appearing in court, according to Mulroy. A “substantial number”, he said, are released without conviction.
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But then, “they lost their jobs, they interrupted their education, their career, you disrupted their family,” Mulroy told Fox News. “And all because they can’t afford cash bail.”
“A defendant in the same situation who has money, who can pay bail, spends those months or years surviving,” he added.
Mulroy also said “it’s racially disproportionate. The longer you stay in the bail system, the more likely you are to be black.”
Critics have argued that bail reform gives accused felons the chance to re-offend after they are released, contributing to an increase in crime.
“Time and time again, our police officers make an arrest and then the person arrested for assault, felony assault, robbery and possession of firearms ends up on the street days or even hours after the arrest,” New York Mayor Eric Adams, for example, said. “And they continue to commit more crimes within weeks, even days.”
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Darrell Brooks Jr., who was charged with killing six people and injuring more than 60 during the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade, was released on $1,000 bond five days before the attack. He already had a 50-page rap sheet from 1999, which included violent crime convictions, and had an active warrant out of Nevada.
“There are always potential costs and risks to any change in the system,” Mulroy told Fox News.
Studies of the effect of bail reform on crime have had mixed results.
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Crimes rose 20% in New York in the first two and a half months after state bail reform laws went into effect in 2019, according to a report by the Manhattan Institute.
But the Brennan Center For Justice found no clear link between the rise in crime and the bail reform law. The study noted that crime increased nationwide in 2020 and that relatively “few of those released under the new law were rearrested for serious offences.”
“If there is a conviction, these people will spend time behind bars, as they should, because they have been convicted of a crime,” Mulroy said. But “we are always presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country”.