Measure Would Grant Courts Additional Discretion in Sentencing Individuals
(TRENTON) – Assembly approved legislation Assembly Democrats Craig J. Coughlin, Gordon M. Johnson and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to allow New Jersey courts to assign community service as penalties for certain crimes in lieu of monetary fines was advanced Monday by a Senate panel.
“Giving judges the extra flexibility to take into account an offender’s financial standing before handing down a sentence that includes fines that realistically will never be repaid will save our local legal systems time and money in the long run,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “After all, time is a currency everyone values.”
Under current law, a municipal judge can only order an offender to perform community service after they have failed to pay a penalty or defaulted on a payment plan. The bill (A-3254) would allow municipal judges the discretion to award a community service penalty in lieu of a fine as an initial penalty.
“Some offenders simply cannot afford to pay a fine, no matter the amount,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “For others, no fine – no matter the amount – will be enough to deter them from committing a crime. For these individuals, the threat of losing their free time to court-mandated community service may serve as a much better deterrent.”
“This is a reasonable alternative to fines that many defendants, quite simply, cannot pay, which serves no purpose,” said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Sentencing such individuals to community service is always a better option to accomplishing nothing. Plus, it can prove a valuable educational experience for defendants and a benefit to our communities.”
The bill was approved 75-1 by the Assembly a bit more than a year ago and released Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.