SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – As of Jan. 1, a change in the New Jersey criminal justice system will eliminate cash bail as well as speed up criminal trails.
While the New Jersey Bail Reform Act, part of a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2014, allows judges to deny bail to the most dangerous defendants, it also now enables many criminals to legally remain out of jail without paying bail. Additionally, the law includes a ‘speedy trial’ rule to ensure that prisoners are trailed with six months of being put in jail as well as provides defendants the right to argue against detention if they can prove it unjustified.
Under the new law, anyone arrested for a crime is now entitled to a pretrial detention hearing within 48 hours of their arrest; their information will be logged into a computer, which will generate a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) score based on factors such age, prior convictions, missed court dates, etc. That number, along with arguments made by the prosecutor and defense attorney, will then be used to determine whether a defendant should be released or held.
According to the New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC) – a Trenton-based non-partisan grassroots group that advocates for legislation, regulations, and policy directives that empower county governments to operate more effectively and efficiently – under the newly implemented law, judges will have three options: release the defendant on their own recognizance; release the defendant with some non-monetary conditions, such as a curfew or GPS monitoring; or detain the defendant until trial.
“If a judge decides to detain a defendant, that activates the second part of the criminal justice changes coming to New Jersey courts in 2017: the speedy trial component,” states the NJAC website (www.NJAC.org). The site goes on to state that, if a judge decides to detain a defendant, that activates the second part of the criminal justice changes coming to New Jersey courts in 2017: the speedy trial component.
“Although the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants a ‘speedy trial, New Jersey lawmakers decided to ensure it by setting legal timelines within which a case must be heard,” states the site. “Grand juries must return indictments within 90 days of a defendant’s detention, and a trial has to begin at most 180 days after the indictment.”
Proponents of the new method state the change will help nonviolent, poor people stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail while also stopping dangerous people who can pay their way out.
“On Jan. 1, 2017, the state shifted from a system that relies principally on setting monetary bail as a condition of release to a risk-based system that is more objective, and thus fairer to defendants because it is unrelated to their ability to pay monetary bail,” states the New Jersey Courts website (http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/criminal/cjr/).”The statute also sets deadlines for the timely filing of an indictment and the disposition of criminal charges for incarcerated defendants.
According to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in a statement posted on the site, the former bail system was ‘not fair to poor defendants who, because they cannot post bail, are cut off from families, may lose their jobs, and may go without access to medication for a period of time.’
“In terms of the charges against them, studies have shown that they face tougher plea offers and pressure to plead guilty because of the amount of time they have already spent in jail, and they receive longer sentences as compared to similarly situated defendants who were able to make bail,” stated Rabner.
On the same site, Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts, states that ‘bail reform and speedy trial reform collectively represent a historic shift in the way our courts administer justice.’
“We need everyone, whether you are part of the criminal division, in a finance office, part of the family division or any other part of the Judiciary, to learn about these reforms and be ready to do your part when called upon for the success of these efforts,” according to Grant.
In South Plainfield, Police Chief James Parker said the borough is following the new law. “We are compliant with what the state wants us to do and we, as an agency are abiding by the protocols,” said Parker.
At the same time, however, those opposed to the change feel New Jersey voters were mislead into voting for the reform law under the ‘guise of keeping dangerous offenders locked up with no bail.’ “In reality, this is a back door to let offenders walk free with a promise to appear in court to save money,” a New Jersey corrections officer who wished to remain anonymous told TAPinto. “It is a threat to the safety and security of every community in this state.”
Earlier this month, numerous law enforcement officials opposed to the amendment change launched an online petition at www.Change.org, arguing that the while the bill was sold to citizens as a solution to New Jersey’s need for bail reform, it “virtually eliminates commercial bail, in favor of an unaccountable pre-trail release system that is the more kind and gentle approach…a ‘get out of jail free’ card…that will make the citizens less safe [and] cost the taxpayers millions.’ The petition in its entirety can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/new-jersey-state-senate-new-jersey-bail-reform-less-safe-at-the-taxpayers-expense.
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