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Burzichelli, McKeon & Mukherji Criminal Justice System Reform Legislation Advanced by Assembly Committee
Bill Will Institute Bail Reform, Pretrial Release Program & Fund Legal Services for Low-Income ResidentsAn Assembly panel on Thursday advanced Democratic legislation that would overhaul the criminal justice process in New Jersey by creating a fairer bail system, improving public safety and providing a way to fund legal services for low-income New Jerseyans.
The measure (A-1910), sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, John McKeon and Raj Mukherji, would establish speedy trial deadlines; reform the way in which bail and pretrial release determinations are made; provide courts with the authority to deny pretrial release; and authorize the Judiciary to revise fees to help fund certain programs and legal services for low-income residents.
"We all know we need to reform the criminal justice process in New Jersey to ensure bail is administered in a common sense way and that all those charged with a crime receive their right to a speedy trial," said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). "We also all realize this is a complicated system to unwind and fix. Working together, we can reform this system and create a safer and more just New Jersey. I'm confident we're headed in the right direction."
"New Jersey's system is replete with problems," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "This isn't a simple problem to solve, but it's one we can solve by working together and advancing a common sense plan to make New Jersey safer while protecting civil rights. We need to get this done."
"Ultimately, these changes will create a more practical and just process to ensure that public safety is protected, first and foremost, and that the constitutional rights afforded to everyone in this state are not trampled," said Mukherji (D-Hudson).
The bill addresses several key areas, a number of which stem from recommendations made in a March report by the state Supreme Court's Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, including:
Bail Reform & Pre-Trial Release
The bill would establish a Statewide Pretrial Services Program under which a risk assessment would be conducted on any person committed to jail after being arrested on a warrant for an initial charge involving an indictable offense or disorderly persons offense. This assessment would occur within 48 hours of the person's commitment to jail in order to make recommendations to the court on an appropriate pretrial release determination, including whether the person should be released:
· on their own personal recognizance or on an unsecured appearance bond;
· on a non-monetary condition(s), such as avoiding contact with an alleged victim or witness, or reporting on a regular basis to a designated law enforcement agency;
· upon execution of a bail bond, other than an unsecured appearance bond; or
· on a combination of monetary bail and non-monetary conditions.
The bill would require that the court make a pretrial release decision "without unnecessary delay," but no later than 48 hours after the commitment to jail. If the court disapproved of a recommended condition of release made in the risk assessment, it would be required to provide an explanation for such in the document authorizing the person's release.
A person out of jail on pretrial release could have the conditions of the release modified or revoked by a court, upon motion by a prosecutor, for violating a restraining order or condition of release, or upon a finding of probable cause that the person committed a new crime while on release.
The bill also establishes a preventative detention mechanism wherein a prosecutor could file a motion, before or after a person secures pretrial release, seeking the pretrial detention of a person. This option would only be available for a person charged with the following: (1) a crime of the first or second degree subject to the State's "No Early Release Act"; (2) a crime for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment; (3) any crime, if the person has previously been convicted of two or more crimes described in categories (1) or (2); (4) any sex offenses or human trafficking offenses involving a victim who is a minor or crimes involving endangering the welfare of a minor; (5) Certain domestic violence offenders; and (5) any crime that imposes a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment and parole ineligibility due to the use or possession of a firearm while in the course of committing or attempting to commit the crime, as set in the Graves Act.
Speedy Trial Deadlines
A person who has been charged with a crime and for whom pretrial detention is ordered could not remain detained in jail for more than 90 days on that charge prior to the return of an indictment. If the person is not indicted within the specified 90 days, the person would be released from jail upon motion of the person or on the court's own motion. The court would release the person on the person's own recognizance or set appropriate non-monetary conditions for the person's release.
A person who has been indicted and for whom pretrial detention is ordered could not remain detained in jail for more than 180 days on that charge following the return or unsealing of the indictment, whichever is later, before commencement of the trial.
To help pay for the bill's new pretrial assessments and monitoring, as well as additional court-related programs and services, the bill allows the Supreme Court to revise or supplement filing and other statutory fees for the sole purpose of funding: (1) the development, maintenance, and administration of the Statewide Pretrial Services Program; (2) the development, maintenance, and administration of a statewide digital e-court information system; and (3) the provision of legal assistance to the poor in civil matters by Legal Services of New Jersey.
The bill would establish a dedicated, non-lapsing fund to be known as the "21st Century Justice Improvement Fund" to collect these fees and appropriate funding to the aforementioned programs. Furthermore, as a limit on the court's authority, all existing filing and statutory fees could not be increased or supplemented more than $50 in the aggregate for each such fee.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
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