New Jersey legislators continue to focus on bail reform for the state’s criminal system, despite concerns about the budget available to fund the reform. In June, the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee passed the newest version of the reform bill, S-946, and criminal lawyers in New Jersey hope that the Senate’s unanimous decision will spark more support for changes to the current system.
S-946 has also received full support from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be moving forward to a vote before the entire Senate. The bill was originally an idea from Gov. Chris Christie, who had hopes of removing the bail requirement for certain non-violent criminals while they waited for their trials. Violent and dangerous offenders would be held in line with the state’s current bail system, but the new bill would allow more defendants to be released without having to post bail, although bail will still be used as an option to ensure that the defendant shows up at his or her trial.
The bill currently allows for the pretrial detention of defendants who have been charged with crimes under the No Early Release Act and the Graves Act, which includes crimes that have the potential of life in prison, and in which minors have been victimized, criminal attorneys in New Jersey say. Additionally, the bill will require a speedy trial system, in which defendants held without bail will have indictments returned within 90 days. For defendants who have been released pending trial without posting bail, prosecutors will have 180 days to obtain an indictment. Incarcerated defendants must also stand trial within 180 days, and non-incarcerated defendants must stand trial within one year.
Overall, the biggest concern regarding the reform appears to be about funding, rather than the proposed bail-free system itself. In New Jersey, thousands of defendants are held for months on end while they wait for their trial, not because they pose dangerous threats to other residents, but because they cannot come up with the money to post bail. The reform would remove the strain of housing non-violent criminals for extended periods of time, and would eliminate a system that is based on available money rather than the severity of the crime.
The bill proposes to use $15 million in funding to pay for additional pretrial services that will help eliminate the need for bail for most defendants. However, Daniel Phillips, the legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, estimates that this number is nowhere near close to the actual amount that will be needed for pretrial services, should the number of defendants released without posting bail increase so drastically.
Although the bill has been making headway in the state’s legislative branches, any changes to the current bail system will require an amendment to the state Constitution in order to be in effect. Currently, the state Constitution stipulates that bail must be set for all crimes except those punishable by the death penalty.
Bail reform is crucial to providing a swift and just system for those accused of criminal activity. At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys represent anyone who is facing trial for crimes in the state, or being held without the ability to post bail. Contact an HCK attorney for a consultation about your case today.