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Criminal Law: New Jersey Bail Reform

In 2014, New Jersey Governor Christie signed a comprehensive bail reform law that takes effect January 1, 2017.  As of that date, the state’s bail system switches from one based on finances to a risk approach system allowing the State to jail innocent people for days until they can schedule a detention hearing and, in some cases, even longer.

Up until now, the procedure for setting bail in New Jersey kept financially-disadvantaged individuals in jail until the time of their trial solely because they were unable to post the necessary bail bond.  On January 1, the requirement to post bond is eliminated so all residents alike could be jailed, making it more important than ever to contact a New Jersey bail attorney as soon as possible after being arrested.

Risk Approach to Bail Reform

Beginning January 1, 2017, the purpose of the new law is to create a presumption against pretrial detention allowing most arrested individuals to remain at home and work until their trial date.  Courts will use a risk approach to determine which individuals will remain behind bars after considering:

  • Flight: The likelihood that the individual will flee and not appear at the time of trial.
  • Criminal Act: The likelihood that the person will commit new criminal acts before their scheduled trial date.
  • Obstruction: The chances that the individual will threaten or injure a victim, witness or juror pending trial.

Officers and prosecutors will use a Public Safety Assessment, a computer-based risk assessment tool.  If you are arrested, a scan of your fingerprints will allow prosecutors to review:

  • A six-point scale to determine the probability of your failure to appear at the time of trial;
  • A six-point scale to decide if new criminal acts are likely; and
  • A violent crime notification that will trigger a State request for detention.

Unfortunately, although the stated purpose of the law is to return people home pending trial, the reality is that New Jersey residents can now be held for days at a time waiting for a detention hearing without any recourse.  Where a defendant previously could post bail and leave jail, they can now be incarcerated -- even when they are innocent of the charges pending against them.  Even worse, if the Judge detains your loved one, he or she could remain in jail for months or years until the date of their trial.

Pre-Trial Detention

Under the new law, if the State wishes to request detention, it is necessary for them to charge an individual by complaint warrant.  If the Judge issues a warrant, an individual will be taken to county jail for up to 48 hours.  This is a significant change because those arrested and charged by complaint warrant on a Friday are required to have their court appearance scheduled for Saturday or Sunday, although it does not appear that the State has sufficient resources to accommodate this schedule.

In at least one county, for example, they will only conduct detention hearings on Tuesdays and Fridays.  That said, if you or a loved one is arrested on a Thursday evening, you could remain in jail until at least Tuesday before a detention hearing is scheduled.  That is five days longer in jail than with the old system which would have allowed you to post bond immediately after your arrest.

For defendants charged by complaint warrant, their first court appearance will now take place within 48 hours of their arrest, which provides very little time to meet with an attorney, review the State’s evidence and prepare for hearing.  Under the new system, which will have courtrooms for hearings in some counties and video systems in others, it is critical to work with one of HCK’s New Jersey bail attorneys who is familiar with bail reform and available to work on your case and appear in court on your behalf over weekends and even holidays.

Conditions of Release

With the pre-2017 law, a defendant who could afford to post bail was generally released until the time of trial.  For those less fortunate individuals without money, remaining in jail pending trial was the only option.  Effective January 1, 2017, using a risk assessment formula, the Judge will determine which defendants are released and under what conditions, including:

  • Attendance at inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation
  • Electric bracelet monitoring
  • Maintaining employment or attendance at college or trade school

While many such conditions were previously used for probation after a defendant was found guilty, under the new law, the Judge has the discretion to impose some or all of these same conditions on an individual who is still wait for trial and has not yet been proven guilty in a court of law.  Further, in those cases where the judge detains an individual, he or she may remain in jail for periods up to two years waiting for trial, and any motions made on their behalf by defense counsel, such as a Motion to Suppress, are not counted toward the State’s requirement to provide them with a speedy trial.

Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. – We Are Here to Help

The criminal defense attorneys at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. understand that the New Jersey bail requirements had a disproportionately negative impact on those with limited finances and required a change. The new system will incarcerate more people, leaving many innocent people in jail for months at a time waiting for their day in court, and it is unlikely to relieve jail crowding or enhance justice. 

If you or a loved one is investigated or arrested, contact our experienced attorneys as soon as possible so that you have necessary representation during the first 48 hours through the conclusion of your case.

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