If New York State passes legislation which eliminates cash bail for many crimes, Erie County lawmakers want to be sure those accused of domestic violence are prevented from obtaining a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Last month, Governor Cuomo announced his desire to eliminate cash bail for many crimes during his State of the State address. Last week, the Erie County Legislature voted unanimously in favor of a resolution urging Albany to leave the practice as is for cases of alleged domestic violence.
It's the concern about what happens following a response that has lawmakers concerned.
"Often times with domestic violence, we see it escalates quickly," said Legislator Lynne Dixon, who co-sponsored the resolution. "It might be menacing at first but it escalates quickly and you hear so many cases, so many instances where people in law enforcement responding to (domestic violence) cases end up getting injured themselves."
Erie County lawmakers previously heard testimony from supporters of cash bail reform, including former Buffalo Bills player turned local businessman Thurman Thomas, who spoke of the economic disadvantage cash bail puts on lower-income defendants who, because they may not afford bail, are forced to stay in jail and jeopardize jobs which are needed to support families. Thomas also pointed to the rates bail bond companies charge to front bail money, putting lower-income suspects - who like all others charged are innocent until proven guilty by trial - at further disadvantage.
Dixon acknowledges the argument by some that claims of domestic violence may be used as a strategy to gain favor in a domestic dispute. She contends, though, that acts of domestic violence are much more than shouting and investigators recognize it.
"I think prosecutors have to have the ability to look at domestic violence cases differently, just because of the level of emotion that is often involved and the repeated offenses that we often see," Dixon said.