The latest high-profile suspect release proves bail reform remains broken
Two and a half years since its implementation and months after an amendment, New York’s controversial bail reform is still putting dangerous criminals back on the streets.
In the latest case, 28-year-old Jesus Ramirez was accused of stabbing 48-year-old Guarionex Torres to death during a fight — caught on camera — outside the Port Authority subway Friday. But by Saturday, Ramirez was out, having put down just 10% of the $100,000 bail set for him.
Proponents of reform will argue the system worked as intended: Someone committed a bail-eligible offense, bail was set, he paid the bond. In reality, the case highlights how even after two reforms in three years, the system remains broken.
After all, Ramirez’s bond was issued over the objection of Manhattan’s progressive district attorney, Alvin Bragg, whose office asked that he be held without bail. But the system bail reform imposed made that unlikely.
In theory, the bail-reform amendments passed this year should have allowed the judge in Ramirez’s case to consider, in setting bail, whether his conduct caused serious harm to someone else. That’s what Gov. Kathy Hochul claimed earlier this month, telling reporters, “What we gave judges was the ability to consider severity of the offense, is this a repeat offense, is there a history involved here?”
But the state Office of Court Administration, asked about the case, asserted that bail still “is solely meant to ensure the defendant’s return to court. Nothing else.” What gives?
The simple answer is that the 2022 changes were a fig leaf.
As former Queens Executive Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn noted in a recent Manhattan Institute report, the introduction of new factors does not change the fact that under New York state law, judges must set bail only on certain offenses and only under the “least restrictive” conditions that will guarantee the defendant’s subsequent appearance in court proceedings. Bail is, by law, meant to ensure that people show up for court, nothing else.
New York remains, in other words, the only state in the union where judges cannot weigh an offender’s threat to public safety in deciding whether or not to detain him. The 2022 reforms mean that the severity of the offense can be weighed in setting bail — but only insofar as it is related to the defendant’s risk of absconding, not as its own justification for bail.
The ease with which Ramirez made bond further reveals the absurdity of this situation. While $100,000 may sound like a lot, bail reform also obligated the court to consider Ramirez’s ability to pay and offer him a partially secured or unsecured bond. High bail, in other words, can’t be used as a pretext to detain someone.
There’s nothing wrong with that in principle. Cash bail as a guise for detention is unfair to poor but non-dangerous defendants. But such a system only works if judges can also detain genuinely dangerous individuals without bail — something that remains all but impossible in New York.
In a sane regime, the court would have identified Ramirez, who has admitted to the stabbing, as a danger to the public and remanded him. But because it can’t weigh his dangerousness, only his risk of flight, and because it must offer him a bond he can pay, the law obliged the court to put Ramirez back on the street.
Despite lobbying from Mayor Eric Adams and other progressive New York City leaders, Albany Democrats haven’t been willing to play ball on a “dangerousness standard.” Until they are, New York will remain behind every other state in the union, and dangerous suspects like Ramirez will keep making The Post’s front page for their easy release.
Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.