The General Assembly on Monday granted final legislative approval to a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Tim Eustace and Bob Andrzejczak that would overhaul the criminal justice process in New Jersey by creating a fairer bail system and improving public safety.
The measure (SCR-128/ACR-177), approved by a vote of 66-0-8, proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would institute much-needed changes to both the pretrial release and detention program in New Jersey and grant the legislature the authority to enact these changes through companion legislation that was also approved by the Assembly today.
“This constitutional amendment is about protecting our families. No longer would those accused of violent crimes be eligible to roam our streets while awaiting trial, free to continue the cycle of violence and interfere with investigations,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “This smart approach to overhauling our criminal judicial system will boost the integrity of our courts, and that’s a win for New Jersey residents.”
The proposed amendment to the New Jersey Constitution would authorize a court, under certain circumstances, to order the pretrial detention of a person in a criminal case by changing the current constitutional right to bail.
While eliminating the upfront right to bail, the proposed amendment would still make all persons eligible for pretrial release from jail by either bail or another means. However, an individual’s release could be denied by the court based upon concerns that a jailed person, if released: would not return to court when required; would be a threat to the safety of another person or the community; or would obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.
“These changes will enhance the safety of the public, the integrity of the criminal justice process, and reduce reliance on monetary bail by authorizing judges to deny pretrial release to certain offenders,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By putting this up for a referendum, voters will be allowed to weigh in on the changes necessary to move our criminal justice system into the 21st century in a more efficient, cost-effective and just manner.”
“As it stands now, parts of our constitution are outdated due to recent changes in the law while other parts require a modernization to reflect the realities of current-day society,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “These changes would protect both the public and those that are truly innocent while improving our overall criminal justice system.”
The amendment would also remove superfluous language in the constitution about bail eligibility for death penalty cases because the death penalty no longer exists in New Jersey.
Lastly, the amendment would take effect on January 1, 2017 in order to permit the legislature time to properly establish appropriate procedures, terms, and conditions related to these matters and their requirements to be implemented by the other branches of government,