Newark, NJ- The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform, estimates that 38.5 percent of people in New Jersey’s jails cannot afford to pay bail and remain incarcerated until they are assigned a court date. Many of these individuals are being held for minor crimes, and languish in jail for months. Income disparity among minor offenders and court backlogs are adding to New Jersey’s problem with jail overcrowding, but newly enacted criminal justice reform legislation seeks to alleviate the disparity in New Jersey’s cash-based bail system and ensure a criminal defendant is granted a speedy trial.
The State Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, makes significant changes to the state’s bail system from cash-based to risk-based, requiring an alleged offender undergo pre-trial assessment before deciding if he or she should be granted bond or held until trial.
Instead of setting a monetary bail, judges decide if a person should be released or if the accused should be held in jail until their court date based on their pre-trial assessment and other metrics. Judges will assess defendants’ bond worthiness by looking at whether they are likely to commit another crime after release, if they might intimidate witnesses and if they are at risk of missing court dates. Metrics such as the defendant’s age, criminal history and any arguments made by a defense attorney are also taken into consideration when determining if an individual should be granted bail.
If the accused is at risk of missing a court date or fleeing, a judge can choose to impose conditions on their release on bail or a judge can decide to hold an individual without bail. Possible bail conditions can include imposing a curfew or requiring an individual to wear an ankle monitor. A high-risk individual can be denied bail altogether and held until the trial date.
The reforms require a person facing a criminal charge to be given a detention determination hearing within 48 hours of arrest. If the prosecution is unable to meet the detention determination hearing deadline, the accused will be released until the case is resolved.
If a judge decides an individual should remain in jail, the reforms call for that person to be granted a speedy trial. The law states that no more than 90 days can pass from the time a person is arrested until he or she are indicted, and no more than 180 days can pass between the indictment and the beginning of the accused’s trial. The speedy trial component of the reforms states that the adjudication process should not take more than two years.
These reforms are designed so individuals arrested in New Jersey are not being held for months or years because they can’t afford bail or the courts are severely backlogged. Because the adjudication process moves quicker with the new reforms, a person should enlist legal representation as soon as they are able.
If you are facing criminal charges in Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark or another area in New Jersey, contact my office at 973-453-2009and we can set up a short case evaluation. I can assist you with your detention determination hearing and begin working on your criminal defense. Because my practice also focuses on immigration, I can help immigrants make decisions about their criminal charges that won’t negatively affect their immigration status.