A little over a week ago, a 23-year-old construction worker in the Bronx named Jeff Rivera got in an argument with his wife, from whom he is separated. During the argument, he struck her door, pushing in the screen.
Rivera was arrested and brought to court, where he was charged with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, for pushing in the screen door. Though the sentence for being convicted of a misdemeanor offense like criminal mischief is hard to predict, the more immediate question for Rivera was whether or not he’d be jailed before trial.
Rivera had no reason to expect that he’d have to post bail to stay out of jail. Not only was the offense relatively minor, but he has no criminal history, is employed, and has a child and every reason in the world to show up for his trial. Judges are only supposed to set bail for two main reasons: if the defendant is a flight risk, or if he or she is a danger to the community.
“Bail is for guaranteeing that a person appears at trial. It’s not a punishment,” says Rivera’s lawyer, Alexandra Bonacarti of New York County Defender Services. “There’s absolutely no reason to set bail on someone like Jeff who has a job, a child, no criminal history, no history of missing a court date, and is not charged with a violent crime.”