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Release and Bail Decisions in New York City

NCJ Number
Mary T. Phillips Ph.D.
Date Published
August 2004
8 pages
This report summarizes recent research on the factors that influence release and bail decisions at arraignments in the criminal courtrooms of the Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs of New York City.
Data were obtained from researcher courtroom observations and court records on approximately 2,000 nondisposed cases in the 2 boroughs between September 2002 and March 2003. Fifteen judges in Brooklyn and 17 in Manhattan were involved in the cases studied. The strong statistical association between prosecutors' bail-amount requests and the judges' release-on-recognizance (ROR) and bail-amount decisions suggests that prosecutors dominate release and bail decisions. Any influence of charge severity and defendant's criminal history was apparently taken into account by the prosecutor in making the bail-amount request. The more severe the charge, the less likely was the prosecutor to recommend ROR and the higher the bail amount requested. A prior failure to appear at court significantly decreased the likelihood of prosecutor consent to ROR. In Brooklyn, this factor was even more important than charge severity. Although judges ROR and bail-amount decisions generally coincided with prosecutors' recommendations on bail amount, decision patterns for similar defendants differed among judges. In discussing policy implications, this report suggests that judges make more explicit inquiries into factors relevant to public safety before making release and bail decisions, rather than accepting prosecutors' bail-amount recommendations at face value. Judicial training is also recommended as a means of reducing decision disparity among judges. 8 figures


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