DeSantis came to Miami to fight bail reform. Hours later, judge agrees to back off

  • In US
  • 2023-01-27 00:31:12Z
  • By Miami Herald

Hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to block "rogue" judges pursuing bail reform, leaders of Miami-Dade County's justice system announced they would delay new rules making it easier for people with low incomes to leave jail while they await trial.

The afternoon announcement by the chief of judge in Miami-Dade, Nushin Sayfie, said the rollout of the bail-reform plan expected for later this year would be shelved until the criminal-justice legislation DeSantis unveiled in his Miami speech could be considered by the Florida Legislature. DeSantis said his proposed laws would tighten the state rules for when judges could release someone from jail as they await trial. The 60-day legislative session begins March 7.

"Our pretrial justice improvement project focuses on public safety, and a key element of the project is that judges should be the determinants of whether or not an individual remains in jail on serious charges," Sayfie said in the statement. "Since the proposed legislation also touches on release criteria for serious crimes, as well as monetary bond schedules, it is prudent to hold off on implementation pending further guidance from our state lawmakers."

READ MORE: Bail system hurts Miami's poor. Controversial software could fix that but is public at risk?

The statement paused a two-year effort by a committee that included representatives from Miami-Dade's Corrections Department, homeless agency, and the public defender and state attorney's offices. After a story in the Miami Herald Sunday detailed the group's plans, local Republican leaders criticized the idea, culminating in traveling to Miami to promote a legislative package with tougher penalties for serious crimes.


Asked about bail reform in Miami-Dade during a press conference after the speech, DeSantis called the concept dangerous.

"This package will ensure judges can't go rogue and be releasing people," DeSantis said. "All of the proposals I have heard along those lines I think would be dangerous for the people of Miami-Dade."

Judge: it's about risk to public vs. defendant's ability to pay

Sayfie, an elected judge in the state court system, has defended the bail-reform work as a way to put a person's potential risk to the public ahead of the person's ability to pay bail as the main the factor in deciding who must stay in jail ahead of a criminal trial.

READ MORE: DeSantis wants death penalty for child sex crimes, life sentences for candy-like fentanyl

Under the current system, people charged with most crimes are eligible to leave jail before trial if they can pay bail amounts that are refunded if they appear in court. People who don't pay remain in jail, unless a judge opts to reduce or eliminate the required bail amount.

The proposed system would shift to assessing a defendant's risk of skipping trial or committing another crime, based on criminal backgrounds and other metrics. Sayfie said the change would mean more defendants would end up before a judge after being taken to jail because many offenses would no longer be eligible for quick release after bail payments.

"A person's wealth has become the primary determinant of whether they will be released or detained before trial, instead of the likelihood they will flee or pose a threat to public safety," Sayfie's office said in a statement about the effort released last month. "The project team's goal is and has always been to utilize evidence-based tools in order to improve public safety and ensure future court appearances, while ensuring that no one is jailed simply because they are poor."

The last two months saw a campaign against the effort in some local governments. At least four municipalities passed resolutions opposing or criticizing the plan: Miami Beach, South Miami, West Miami and Doral.

Kevin Cabrera, a Miami-Dade commissioner and a Republican in a non-partisan seat, said he planned to introduce a similar resolution for the County Commission, which oversees the county's jail system.

"I think it's important for us to have a position," he said.

Miami Herald staff writer Tess Riski contributed to this report


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