A new bill introduced by New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, would grant nonviolent criminal defendants the chance to be released on nonmonetary bail. Lesniak and his supporters brought out their proposed bill last month, and criminal attorneys in New Jersey say that the bill has potential to cut jail costs, and ensure that defendants appear in court for their trials.
According to the new bill, nonviolent criminals who are released on nonmonetary bail would be subject to a range of conditions. The bill details a list of acceptable alternatives to posting a monetary bail, including supervision by a designated person who agrees to report on the defendant’s behavior and to ensure his or her presence in court, to the best of their ability. Defendants could also be released under the condition that they report to law enforcement officials, maintain a certain level of employment, agree not to travel outside of their home states, and to live in government-mandated housing. Other conditions include restrictions on drug and alcohol use, firearm ownership, court-ordered curfews, as well as any other stipulation the court sees fit to institute.
If the bill passes, judges would be able to order a defendant’s release based on the crimes with which they have been charged. Defendants facing trial for first- and second-degree crimes are not granted the option for nonmonetary bail, and would still be subject to statutory bail restrictions under N.J.S.A. 2A:162-12. The proposed bill grants judges the right to revoke bail if the defendant violates any conditions of his nonmonetary agreement, or if he or she lies in court. Once nonmonetary bail is revoked, the defendant no longer qualifies for pretrial release, and cannot put up a monetary bail before trial. If a defendant violates his bail conditions, the bill requires a bail hearing to be set up within 12 hours of the arrest.
Another bill, A-2056, was introduced in June as well. The bill outlines similar conditions for nonmonetary bail, but has provisions in place to restrict bail for violent criminals awaiting trial. Judges have always been required to impose reasonable bail conditions, based on the 1972 ruling in State v. Johnson, 61 N.J. 351, and conditions could include drug tests or driver’s license suspension for an extended period of time.
The pending bill addresses the issue of prolonged pretrial incarceration. Defendants may sometimes plead guilty to the charges they face, even if they believe they are not guilty, just to return home while they await sentencing. Holding defendants in jail is also costly for the state and its taxpayers. By offering nonmonetary options to those who cannot collect a substantial sum for their bail, Lesniak and his supporters hope to reduce these costs.
The legislation does not specifically address who will be responsible for ensuring compliance in these situations, and those opposed to it have raised concerns that enforcement will be the biggest hurdle for the supporters to overcome. A strong system of pretrial monitoring must be in place to keep defendants from violating the conditions of their bail, New Jersey criminal lawyers say. Without supervision, defendants may be tempted to ignore their conditions, and may even leave town before they are scheduled to stand trial.
The New Jersey criminal attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., offer legal advice and counsel to anyone who is awaiting trial for criminal charges.