SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ - The Supreme Court of New Jersey today issued an Order to Show Cause in response to an application filed by the Office of the Public Defender which may compel the release of many of the inmates currently being held in the Morris County Jail.   

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the request citing concerns about the inmates’ risks of contracting the Coronavirus while incarcerated.

Specifically, the Order signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was executed after the American Civil Liberty Union or ACLU and the Office of the Public Defender asked the court to commute or suspend certain county jail sentences.  This means they want the criminals to be let out of jail now although their sentences are not completed.

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A meeting of all interested parties took place today, Friday, March 20 to see if they could come to an agreement on how to handle this situation. 

According to the Order to Show Cause, if they have not come to an agreement, several parties will be required to file briefs before noon on March 23 to give their argument as to why the criminals should or should not be released.  The parties include:

  • The New Jersey Attorney General,
  • County Prosecutors Association,
  • Municipal Prosecutors Association,
  • the Office of the Public Defender,
  • the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey,
  • the American Civil Liberty Union of New Jersey and
  • “any other interested party”

On March 24, at 12:30 p.m. the Attorney General, County Prosecutors Association, Office of the Public Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will meet via conference call with Heather Joy Baker, the Clerk of the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to release the criminals, the Order said.

Because there were various issues in the Sussex County Jail over the past few years all inmates from the Sussex County Correctional Facility have been transferred to the Morris County Jail, where they are currently held. 

Although the jail’s population includes a variety of offenders, the emergency application filed by the ACLU currently asks for the immediate release of all non- violent offenders, which would including drug offenders, according to Sparta attorney Jackie O’Donnell, Esq.

O’Donnell, Public Defender in Newark 30 years ago, current owner of O’Donnell Law Firm, LLC on Main Street said that her limited understanding of the relief being sought by the ACLU is that “non- violent offenders will be released if the Order is signed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. This population includes those awaiting sentence into Drug Court or awaiting a bed in a drug program.”   

When asked how these released criminals would be monitored if they are released, O’Donnell said, “I believe that the probation officers would be responsible. Ultimately, the Courts will decide whether the offenders return to jail after the coronavirus issues are addressed, or whether they will be credited with their time served prior to their release.” 

According to O’Donnell, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office will undoubtedly oppose the release of these inmates in their papers which are due to the Supreme Court of New Jersey on March 23, 2020.

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