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Reasonable bail: Reform effort moves forward

April 21. 2018 3:51PM

Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau is heading up the bail reform effort in New Hampshire. 

A cornerstone of the American judicial system is that the accused are innocent until proven guilty.

That means that people accused of crimes should not be thrown in jail until after a trial. They may be required to post bail.

But some defendants are being locked up while awaiting trial because they cannot afford even a small amount of bail money.

Senate Bill 556 would require judges to take financial hardship into account when setting bail. Defendants accused on nonviolent crimes could be released on personal recognizance if there is no evidence they would flee. Bail would still be required for defendants deemed flight risks, or denied if they pose a risk to the public.

Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau is heading up the bail reform effort in New Hampshire. She says, "The ultimate goal is to make sure that dangerous people and the people with the highest risk of flight are being detained, and not people who simply can't afford to post bail."

That should be how it works. Bail is meant to ensure that defendants show up to face their charges in court, not as a punishment. Keeping people behind bars because they can't make bail costs taxpayers a lot of money.

Some law enforcement officials are skeptical. They support bail reform, but are worried about wholesale changes to New Hampshire's pretrial procedures that could tie a judge's hands when setting reasonable bail. The bill sets out a lengthy list of criteria that judges would need to consider.

The House last week passed its version of SB 556, and will now negotiate with the Senate over the changes it made to the legislation. We hope that lawmakers are able to reach a consensus.

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