The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill that would ask voters to amend the state constitution to allow judges the leeway to deny bail to some defendants accused of violent crimes. The legislation also calls for most defendants who have been charged with minor or non-violent crimes to be released without posting any bail before trial.
Both houses must approve the bail reform package before it can be put on the November ballot. As of this writing, the General Assembly had not approved it and is facing a strict deadline that must be met if the proposed amendment is to be put to the vote on the next ballot.
Under the current New Jersey state constitution, judges must set bail for all crimes. The only exception is for capital cases, but New Jersey has since abolished the death penalty.
Governor Chris Christie is heavily invested in bail reform in the state. Two-and-a-half years ago, he called for a change in the state’s bail system that make it more like the federal system. He urged both houses to act so that voters can make a decision on the upcoming November ballot.
“As governor of this state I’m asking you to act and to act today,” he said. “There comes a moment when it’s time to act.”
Despite his plea, the Assembly chose to delay its vote.
Christie has said that the current state bail system amounts to a “debtor prison” where indigent defendants languish in jail for months awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail for small amounts for minor offenses. At the same time, he believes that judges should be given latitude to deny bail for violent defendants who could pose a risk to the public should they be released.
Not surprisingly, the bail bond industry has opposed the proposed constitutional amendment. However, some civil rights groups have also opposed it, claiming that the proposed system could actually lead to more indigent defendants being held without bail.
The New Jersey State Bar Association supports the proposal.
The criminal defense attorneys at Lubiner, Schmidt & Palumbo will be following the course of this very important legislation that may change the landscape of the bail system throughout the state. Have you been accused of a crime? Do you have questions about your rights concerning bail? Call us at (888) 847-2529 or contact us online today for a free review of your case and a discussion of your legal rights.