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Cash bail can lead to inequitable outcomes

New Yorkers accused of crimes could be more likely to plead guilty despite the potential strength of their defense due to a system that tends to keep people who are poor or economically marginalized locked up for longer. The system of cash bail means that numerous people who are not convicted remain in jail prior to trial, and the desire to bring an end to pretrial detention can impel indigent defendants to accept plea bargains.

A study conducted by researchers from leading universities revealed that there are approximately 500,000 people in pretrial detention across the United States at any given time. In fact, the U.S. rate of imprisonment before trial is the highest in the world. Among their findings was that the fact that holding people in jail before trial, regardless of guilt or innocence, had a major impact on whether a defendant would choose to plead guilty. Release before trial decreased the probability of being convicted by 14 percentage pointsThe researchers stated that freedom before trial strengthened the position of a defendant in dealing with the prosecution.

Many people accused of crimes are already living in poverty, which means that less than half of the defendants studied were able to post bail. This was the case even when bail was set at $5,000 or less. Pretrial detention was also strongly associated with negative outcomes after conviction; people who were released before trial were nearly 10 percentage points more likely to be formally employed several years later than those who remained detained.

People who are accused of a crime need strong legal representation at all stages of the process. A criminal defense attorney can help to argue against excessive cash bail and provide a powerful challenge to the charges themselves.

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