Bill Will Institute Much-Needed Bail Reform, Pretrial Release Program & Fund Legal Services for Low-Income Residents
By a vote of 53-7-9, the full Assembly on Monday granted final legislative approval to bipartisan legislation that will 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 (S-946/A-1910), sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, Raj Mukherji and Annette Quijano, would reform the way in which bail and pretrial release determinations are made; provide courts with the authority to deny pretrial release; establish speedy trial deadlines; and authorize the Judiciary to revise fees to help fund a pretrial risk assessment and monitoring program, legal services for the poor and other court-related programs and services.
“We all know we needed 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). “As we’ve seen, this is a complicated system to unwind and fix. But, working together, I think we’ve achieved the right balance between reforming our system and creating a safer and more just New Jersey.”
“Taxpayer dollars are presently being wasted to imprison alleged offenders for months on tiny bail amounts while they await resolutions of lower level offenses, simply because they can’t afford it,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “In one fell swoop, these reforms will ensure public safety is protected and the most dangerous threats to society can’t use their illicit gains to get back on our streets while fortifying the constitutional rights afforded to everyone in this state, expanding the options available to our judges for pretrial release, and providing much-needed funding to expand legal aid for low-income New Jerseyans.”
“We cannot afford to allow the current system to continue,” said Quijano (D-Union). “There is near universal agreement that it doesn’t work. We see violent repeat offenders back on our streets too soon, while others wait in jail for months on end for their trial. Common sense reform like this is very clearly needed.”
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.
Broadly speaking, the bill is designed to encourage the courts to primarily relying upon pretrial release by non-monetary means to reasonably assure an eligible defendant’s appearance in court when required, to protect the safety of any other person or the community, to ensure that the eligible defendant will not attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process, and will comply with all conditions of release.
The bill would also authorize the court, upon motion by a prosecutor, to order pretrial detention of an eligible defendant when it finds clear and convincing evidence that no condition or combination of conditions can reasonably assure the effectuation of the above-stated goals.
Under the bill, as amended, monetary bail could be set for an eligible defendant only after the defendant’s commitment to jail and when it is determined that no other conditions of release will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required.
Bail Reform & Pre-Trial Release
Under the pre-trial release program, a risk assessment would be conducted on any person committed to jail after being arrested on 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.
The assessment would make recommendations to the court concerning an appropriate pretrial release determination, including whether the person should be released: on their own personal recognizance or on execution of an unsecured appearance bond; on a non-monetary condition 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.
If the court has concerns with an individual’s future court appearances or whether they pose a danger to other people or the community, the court could order pretrial release subject to one or more non-monetary conditions, including but not limited to:
1) not committing any crimes during the period of release
2) avoiding contact with an alleged victim or witness;
3) reporting on a regular basis to a designated law enforcement agency;
4) remaining in the custody of a designated person who agrees to assume supervision and report violations of any release condition;
5) maintaining employment, or, if unemployed, actively seek employment;
6) maintain or commence an educational program;
7) abide by specified restrictions on personal associations, residency, or travel;
8) refrain from possessing a firearm or other weapons;
9) refrain from the excessive use of alcohol, or from the use of narcotics or controlled substances;
10) undergo treatment for substance abuse;
11) complying with a specified curfew;
12) satisfy any other condition reasonably necessary to reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court, or to ensure public safety and that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process; or
13) be placed in a pretrial home supervision capacity with or without the use of an approved electronic monitoring device.
In order to enhance public safety, the bill would allow a prosecutor to make a motion for the court to order the pretrial detention of an offender charged with the following crimes:
first or second degrees covered by the No Early Release Act;
a crime for which the eligible defendant would be subject to an ordinary or extended term of life imprisonment;
any crime, if previously convicted of two or more crimes described in categories (1) or (2);
certain sexual and human trafficking offenses;
certain crimes where the victim is a minor, and the crime is endangering the welfare of a minor;
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 forth in the Graves Act;
certain domestic violence offenses; and
any other crime for which the prosecutor believes there is a serious risk that the eligible defendant would not appear in court, would pose a danger to another person or the community, or would attempt to obstruct justice or threaten, injure, or intimidate a prospective witness or juror.
Speedy Trial Deadlines
In order to prevent defendants from being detained for inordinately long periods of time, the bill would establish statutory pre- and post-indictment speedy trial deadlines for eligible defendants based upon suggested deadlines contained in recommendations the March 2014 report of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice.
Barring various exceptions, an eligible defendant must not remain detained in jail for more than 90 days, not counting excludable time for reasonable delays, prior to the return of an indictment. Eligible defendants who have been indicted must not remain detained in jail for more than 180 days on that charge following the return or unsealing of an indictment, before commencement of their trial. except for permissible excludable time for reasonable delays as laid out by the bill,
The measure now heads to the Governor’s desk.