By Carol Tannenhauser
On November 18th, Judge Anne Swern released Larissa Williams — a homeless woman accused of throwing a block of wood that hit and injured a passerby — issuing an “unsecured appearance bond,” which requires only a signed promise to appear in court or a fine if the accused fails to do so. The Manhattan DA’s office, with the support of Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin of the 20th Precinct, had requested $10,000 cash bail or a $20,000 bond, but the judge denied the requests.
Many readers questioned Judge Swern’s ruling, wondering why Williams was released with a Class D Felony Assault. Here is what we found out.
Under current New York State law, in addition to the decision that she made, Judge Swern had the options of releasing Williams with some form of cash bail or ordering pretrial detention. Judge Swern did not consider the latter, according to Lucian Chalfen, director of public information for the New York State court system, because “even the District Attorney did not ask for that.” In an email to WSR, Chalfen explained why Judge Swern chose the terms of release she did.
“In New York State, the purpose of bail is to ensure the defendant’s return to court. Currently and continuing after January 1st, 2020 with the new criminal justice reforms, a judge’s decision on any type of bail, supervised release or release on one’s own recognizance is predicated on the defendant’s return to court. Nothing else. While this defendant does have another open criminal matter, she did make every court date in that case. Any changes to conditions or requirements in the bail statute must come from the state legislature.”
As for referring Williams for services or treatment, “The pretrial agency who does the assessment — CJA — would recommend that,” Chalfen wrote. CJA (Criminal Justice Act) in this context refers to the public defender who will be appointed to represent Larissa Williams. She is due in court on Friday.
Here is a link to the major provisions of the Bail Reform Law, which goes into effect in January, 2020.