In a little over a month, the criminal justice system here in New Jersey will undergo something of a seismic shift, as a much-anticipated overhaul of the bail system will officially take effect.
Starting January 1, 2017, the state is poised to shift from a cash-based pretrial release system, common across much of the U.S., to a new risk-based system. Specifically, the new system will base release on a new formula designed to weigh each defendant's risk to the community if released before trial, deny pretrial release to defendants accused of especially serious crimes and guarantee a release decision within 48 hours.
The rationale for the bail overhaul, which was supported by everyone from Governor Christie to criminal justice advocacy groups, is that it would prevent the unjust reality of indigent and otherwise low-risk defendants from automatically having to go to jail, while their potentially dangerous yet well-heeled counterparts go free.
In recent developments, a group of state lawmakers, headed by Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), has now introduced an eleventh-hour measure that they argue is necessary given that the state has drastically underestimated the cost of the bail reform, particularly as it concerns staffing the county courts and prosecutors' offices.
If passed, A3507 would restore the cash bail option for those defendants charged with non-first degree offenses, such that they could be released prior to waiting for the completion of the risk assessment.
The bill has already been attacked by a host of parties, including civil liberties advocacy groups who argue that it would effectively restore separate bail systems based on wealth.
Thus far, the measure was advanced by the Assembly judiciary committee and is now awaiting approval by an appropriations committee. It should be noted, however, that it has not been scheduled for a Senate hearing and that lawmakers there have not been receptive to the measure.
Stay tuned for updates ...
If you are under investigation or have already been charged with any sort of felony or misdemeanor, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.