Defendant Paul Barbaritano of Albany, New York looking around courtroom at his January 2020 criminal hearing

As was the case in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, Denver and throughout Colorado bail reform was sold to the people of New York State as a common-sense solution to the problem of harmless, innocent people being unable to make bail. The new laws would set things straight and ensure these 'victims' of the bondsman and the larger bail system would no longer be unjustly incarcerated.

The reality, however, has been quite different. Crime has spiked in New York since the new anti-bail law went into effect on January 1st, and even former bail reform advocate (and New York City mayor) Bill de Blasio is now calling for changes. But any changes that do occur will happen too late for Nicole Jennings and too late to provide justice for her family.

Bail Bonds Reform Claims Another Victim

Paul Barbaritano is what happens when you remove the bondsman from the criminal justice equation. The 52-year-old Albany man was charged with choking and stabbing Nicole Jennings in her apartment last summer. Prosecutors allege that Barbaritano covered Jennings' head with a plastic bag then wrapped a belt around her throat and stabbed her in the neck. Jennings, the mother of a 3-year-old, was found by police who later arrested Barbaritano and charged him with second-degree manslaughter. Police initially bought into his assertion that he and Jennings were just involved in ‘rough sex’ that got out of hand. Hence, the manslaughter charge.

Barbaritano had been held pending trial since his arrest but when New York’s new bail reform law took effect January 1st his lawyers petitioned for his immediate release. Their argument was based on the fact that, under the new law, second-degree manslaughter does not qualify as a bailable offense. Prosecutors argued that there was sufficient evidence to increase the charges to second-degree murder. But the judge in the case said it was too late to do that and ordered Barbaritano to be released from custody. He (the judge) claimed the new bail reform law left him no choice.

The New Reality

Albany County District Attorney David Soares was outraged that Barbaritano was allowed to walk free. Said Soares after Barbaritano’s release: "What you observed today in court is the new reality. This is what the new criminal justice system in New York will be moving forward". He continued: "Anywhere in the country, any jurisdiction in the country, this is a case where an individual will be held pretrial in a correction facility... (Anywhere) but in New York state.”

Soares was not alone in condemning Barbaritano’s release. John Flanagan, the senate republican leader issued a statement blaming Governor Cuomo and the democratically controlled legislature for the debacle. Said Flanagan, "Another day, another individual accused of a heinous crime released back out into the community where they are free to offend again".

Barbaritano’s court-appointed attorney tried to paint a picture of the man as some type of hero: "He was absolutely trying to save this woman's life. What happened was the result of a horrific accident". But the fact is that Barbaritano is no angel. He had previously served more than 2 years in New York state prison for robbery and attempted robbery and was known to use and abuse drugs. And while his attorney tries to minimize the stakes by claiming Barbaritano is accused of a “non-violent crime”, that characterization doesn't sit well with Jennings' family members, who had to bury their sister, daughter, and mother as a result of Barbaritano's actions.

Paul Barbaritano: Victim

In a further attempt to push back against the legitimate outrage over the release of her client Barbaritano’s public defender, Rebekah Sokol, said we should all feel good because Barbaritano will finally be free to get the help he needs. The public defender’s office Sokol works for echoed that heartwarming sentiment, declaring Barbaritano will no longer be victimized by being held in jail and that they are now “connecting our client with the services and treatment that he needs.” Apparently, that means we’re all supposed to be happy that this convicted robber and accused killer can eat at home tonight.

The Mayor Sees the Light

Barabaritano’s case is just the latest example of the overt failure of New York’s bail reform legislation. Legislation that was sponsored by and championed by New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, among others. A litany of horror stories has unfolded since January 1 that underline grim statistics which confirm that crime has spiked in New York because of the new law.

The mayor himself came out recently and, in one of the more blatant political about-faces in recent memory, announced he now favors revising the current bail bonding reform legislation to prevent dangerous individuals from being released onto the street. Some of de Blasio’s backers are crying foul over this perceived betrayal. But the mayor is no fool. He sees what is unfolding around him and knows that when he comes up for re-election next year people are going to hold him accountable for the chaos on the streets, unless he does something to change it.

In the meantime, Paul Barbaritano is free to move about those streets, unencumbered by notions of accountability. To bail reformers he represents a victim freed from an oppressive, classist legal system. To normal people, he's an accused killer on the loose.