Troconis case renews calls for bail reform at state Capitol

Critics say wealthy defendants like Troconis can buy their way out of jail while they await sentencing, while poor suspects are stuck in custody.

John Craven

Mar 4, 2024, 10:18 PM

Updated 43 days ago

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The nationally-publicized Michelle Troconis case is leading to new calls for bail reform at the state Capitol.
Critics say wealthy defendants like Troconis can buy their way out of jail while they await sentencing, while poor suspects are stuck in custody.
“JUDGE HAS NO CHOICE”
Moments after a jury convicted her of conspiring to murder Jennifer Dulos, Troconis was led out of court in handcuffs. But she may not stay in prison long, since Judge Kevin Randolph was forced to offer Troconis bail until she’s sentenced on May 31.
“Six million dollars, cash or surety,” he said.
That’s because the state constitution requires bail in all but death penalty cases, which Connecticut abolished in 2012.
“It allows too many folks who are either very violent offenders or are significant flight risks to be able to let out on bail if they can afford it,” said state Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport), co-chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “If someone rapes someone – is charged with rape, gets out on bail and rapes someone again – a judge has no choice but to give them bail and allow them back out again, assuming they can come up with the funds.”
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Stafstrom is pushing for an amendment to the state constitution allowing bail to be revoked in any case where “the court finds no conditions of pretrial release reasonably assure the appearance of the accused in court when required, or protect the safety of any other person or the community.”
The American Civil Liberties Union previously opposed a constitutional amendment, but now says it supports the idea -- as long as the current system is replaced with something fairer.
“The injustice faced by poor people and disproportionately by people of color in our current Connecticut bail system is glaring," said ACLU CT executive director David McGuire. "We welcome the legislature's willingness to explore more equitable alternatives and will be advocating that any new systems be equitable and constitutional.”
The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on bail reform next week. But changes won’t happen anytime soon. Amending the state constitution takes several years – and also requires voter approval.
BAIL REPLACEMENT?
If voters approve the amendment, lawmakers would then have to decide when – and if – judges could require bond for pre-trial release.
Stafstrom suggested scrapping cash bail altogether, in favor of a risk-based system.
“It looks at, what is the risk someone is going to flee the state?” he said. “What is the risk to public safety? Will they re-offend before trial? And if those two things are so high, then the person can be held without bail.”
Only one state – Illinois – has completely ended cash bail. But others, including New Jersey and New Mexico, have sharply limited its use. Those states’ efforts are seeing early promise, according to a 2022 report from the Connecticut Sentencing Commission.
In New Jersey, “in 2019, only 13.7% of defendants were rearrested for an indictable offense while on release. Less than 0.5% of released defendants were arrested for serious crimes,” the report found. “That same year, court appearance rates exceeded 90%.”
But there are public safety concerns. New York state pulled back on bail reform last year, following several violent crimes involving suspects released under the new policy.
“I do believe that judges should have more authority to set bail and detain dangerous defendants,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-New York) said in April 2023.
In Connecticut, prosecutors are concerned.
“Any new risk-based system requiring a release determination and possible hearing in 85,000 criminal cases annually will require significant and fundamental changes,” wrote the Division of Criminal Justice in 2023. “While such a departure may find favor and be beneficial, doing so now, without careful study and consideration of the various stakeholders is premature and lacking in any reasonably informed and thoughtful consensus on the risk-based system that would replace the current bail system.”
CHANGES ALREADY MADE
Connecticut has already made changes.
In 2017, “cash only” bond (where a suspect must pay the full amount in cash) was banned. Also, bail reviews must happen faster in misdemeanor cases.
After another change in 2020, some defendants could post 10% of the bond directly – payable while they’re being booked – avoiding the need for costly bail bondsmen.
As for further changes? Gov. Ned Lamont is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Let me look at that,” he said Monday. “I’m a little cautious about lots of constitutional amendments, so I'd have to take a look at that.”


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