On January 1, 2017, the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act took effect and functionally ended the money bail system throughout the state. In its place, a new system based on risk-assessment was implemented. Detention is no longer based on whether or not you can post bail, but whether you are deemed to be a flight risk or a danger to public safety.
How Does the NJ Bail Reform Process Work?
The bail reform process works on the assumption that innocent people should not be in jail. Unless you are facing life imprisonment, all defendants are entitled to the presumption that they will be released.
Public Safety Assessments
Defendants that are arrested now either receive a complaint-summons or a complaint warrant. Individuals who get a complaint-summons receive a court date and are then released, possibly with conditions. Those charged with a complaint-warrant are taken into custody and then will be assessed by a judge within 48 hours on a public safety assessment (PSA). The PSA is an objective screening tool that helps the judge determine whether to release or detain an individual based on past criminal or court history and what, if any, conditions of release should be set. These conditions could be things like phone calls or meetings with a pretrial services officer, electronic monitoring or house arrest.
Pretrial Detention Hearings
If no motion for detention is made, the defendant is released. If a motion is filed, a pretrial detention hearing is scheduled to occur within 3-5 business days. The prosecution must then demonstrate that no conditions of release could possibly assure the public’s safety or that the defendant will return to court. If they are unable to demonstrate that the defendant is a public safety risk or a flight risk, they are released. If the prosecution is able to provide satisfactory reasoning that the defendant is a risk, they will be detained in jail.
Pretrial Detention Time Limits
As part of the bail process reform, there is now also a limit on the amount of time an individual can be detained before receiving a trial. These speedy trial rules limit how long a defendant can be jailed while a case is settled.
Benefits of the Bail Reform Process
Under the money bail system, judges were forced to set bail in most cases. This had two negative effects. The first was that many individuals in the State of New Jersey were being held solely because they did not have the means to post bail. These people could end up jailed for months or even years for low level offenses simply because they did not have the ability to make bail, despite being innocent until proven guilty.
The second was that truly dangerous defendants with the monetary means could post bail and be on their way and there was little the court system could do about it.
The biggest benefit of release is that a person accused of a crime can still maintain a stable life for themselves and their family. Detention causes financial stress, as those detained often lose their job and thus can find the cost of paying rent or caring for loved ones an impossible proposition. This strain often forced those detained into accepting plea bargains to crimes they did not commit in order to speed up the process and often left them with criminal records, making finding housing, employment and education an insurmountable task. The new bail reform and the speedy trial rules help alleviate some of this stress.
The new system is fairer to people with limited financial means, to those who have not committed serious offenses and those that are not threats to public safety or flight risks. Additionally, the system now has the power to detain dangerous individuals that otherwise could buy their way to release.
Need Help the New Bail Reform Process?
It can be daunting facing down the court system, especially after a complaint-warrant, where the possibility of being detained exists. At Schneider Freiberger, we are experienced with the pretrial justice system. We can help you obtain release, avoid detention and represent you when your day in court arrives. Let us help you with your case today.