Governor Christie Signs Law Providing Radical Bail Reform to New Jersey
by: W. Les Hartman
Visit Kalavruzos, Mumola, Lento and Hartman (KMHL) LLC on Google+
On August 11, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law a bill providing much needed bail reform. The bill, which enjoyed bipartisan support, allows low-income defendants charged with non-violent offenses to be released from jail without posting any money. If the Judge believes, after reviewing all of the available information, that a defendant will appear for court and does not pose a danger to any person or the community, then he or she should be released without the necessity of posting bail. Monetary bail in these situations should only be set when it is determined that no other condition of release will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court.
The new law will rely on greater supervision during the defendant’s release and stricter penalties for someone who fails to appear in court. A defendant released on his or her own recognizance could be required to:
- Remain in the custody of friends or family:
- Maintain employment
- Regularly report to the court or law enforcement during his release
- Wear an electronic monitoring device
- Any other reasonable condition.
A recent study found that 12% of New Jersey inmates were stuck in jails because they were not able to pay bails as low as $250.00. Poorer suspects could languish for months or even years awaiting trial and were more likely to plead guilty, even if they felt that they felt that they were innocent of the charges. Governor Christie has compared New Jersey’s pretrial system to a “debtors prison”, which led him to sign this current legislation.
Alternatively, the companion bill would allow voters to decide if the State’s Constitution should be amended to allow judges to deny the release before trial of defendants who were accused of committing violent crimes; even if they could post bail. Presently the New Jersey Constitution requires that Judges set bail in any case that does not charge a capital crime. The Governor and the Legislature are responding to several instances where persons who had been released on bail committed heinous crimes. The Governor used an instance where a defendant – who was out on bail for multiple counts of first degree robbery – committed a home invasion and held a gun to an 8 month old baby and threatened to put the child in the oven if his demands where not met. This, and other extreme examples, has been used as a rallying cry to pass the current legislation.
The new legislation will require a dramatic overhaul of the current system. The Governor, however, has stated that every day someone is deprived of liberty is a crisis.