While the start of any new calendar year is always exciting from a criminal law perspective given that it marks the official enactment of new state laws, excitement has been particularly high this year given the landmark changes to New Jersey's criminal justice system that took effect on January 1.
Specifically, the Garden State's bail and trial systems have each undergone a major overhaul, the degree of which that has yet to be seen -- or attempted -- in any U.S. city or state.
Bail system reform
Under the new system, New Jersey courts have eliminated the longstanding cash bail system, whereby a defendant, excepting those accused of capital crimes, were able to secure release if they could post a cash bond.
In its place, they have introduced a system whereby anyone taken into custody will receive a pretrial detention hearing within 48 hours of their arrest. During the time leading up to the pretrial hearing, court officials will enter certain vital information about the defendant (age, criminal record, missed court dates, etc.) into a specialized computer program that assigns them a number based on how likely they are to reoffend or miss their court date.
This number, in turn, will be considered by the judge at the pretrial hearing, as well as any arguments offered by defense attorneys or prosecutors as to the necessity of continued detention. They will then be able to order the defendant 1) released on their own recognizance, 2) released subject to certain conditions (GPS bracelet, curfew) or 3) detained until trial.
This move away from a cash bail system, say advocates, will help prevent the inequity that results from having indigent, low-risk defendants from having to remain incarcerated, while wealthy and potentially dangerous defendants are able to go free.
Trial system reform
Under the new system, if the judge orders the defendant held at the pretrial detention hearing, it will initiate a new so-called speedy trial component.
Specifically, an indictment must be handed down by a grand jury within 90 days of the defendant's detention, while his or her trial must commence within 180 days of the indictment.
Here's hoping New Jersey's efforts to reform the criminal justice system achieve the desired goals.
If you are facing any manner of criminal charges -- felony or misdemeanor -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options.