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Now in Effect – New Jersey’s New Bail Reform Act

jail cell

In the past, when a person was arrested, they were often released “on bail” while awaiting trial or other required appearances before the court. This allowed the defendant to retain their freedom until they were acquitted, a jury declared them guilty of a crime, or they entered into a plea bargain agreement with the State.

Bail usually took the form of money paid to the court or property (such as land) pledged to secure the defendant’s appearance at later proceedings. If the defendant did not appear, the bail money (or property) was forfeited; additionally, the defendant could be charged with the separate crime of failure to appear in court.

Although this basic system was followed in New Jersey for many years, the state legislature passed bail reform legislation in 2014 that significantly changed the existing bail system.

The Bail Reform Law – New Jersey Public Law 2014, Chapter 31

The “Bail Reform Act” – the more common name for N.J. Pub. Law 2014, ch. 31 – was approved on August 11, 2014, as a supplement to Titles 2A and 2B of the New Jersey Statutes and an amendment to the previous bail law found at N.J. Pub. Law 1995, ch. 325. Because of the “sweeping changes to New Jersey’s adult criminal justice system” effectuated by the Act, however, the “unprecedented reform initiative” did not become effective until January 1, 2017.

One reason for this is that an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution was required before the law could go into full effect. In anticipation of the effective date of the Act and the constitutional amendment, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office issued Directive No. 2016-6 to establish interim policies, practices, and procedures.

Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2016-6

Weighing in at 84 pages and almost 38,000 words (more than four times the length of the Act itself), the AG’s directive aims to prepare police, prosecutors, and defense counsel for the system-wide changes the Act brings to the New Jersey criminal justice system. Although much of the new law focuses on pretrial release decisions, the directive stresses that the reform act will affect how cases are handled “at every stage of the judicial process.”

With regard to the issue of pretrial release, the reform focuses on a judicial assessment of the level of risk for an individual defendant. After considering factors such as the defendant’s age, prior record, and the charges pending against him or her, the judge will classify a defendant as low, moderate, or high risk. The defendant may then be released on conditions imposed by the judge – without the need to post a monetary bail. A pretrial services staff will monitor the defendant, pending further court appearances or a trial. Defendants who are considered to have a serious risk of flight or have a serious risk of danger to the community can be held in custody pending trial.

This system is believed by many to be more fair than the previous system, especially to low-income defendants who sometimes remained in custody for lengthy periods of time because they were unable to post even a modest amount of bail.

Another Important Component of the Act – Speedy Trial

The new law has many other important provisions, including a speedy trial component that limits the amount of time that a defendant can remain detained before trial. Separate limits apply for the time from arrest to indictment, from indictment to trial, and overall (from detention to trial). Extensions are available for proceedings such as pretrial motions, competency hearings, and plea negotiations.

Get Advice From a Knowledgeable Red Bank Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal advice, reach out to the Law Office of Tara Breslow. As a dedicated Monmouth and Ocean County criminal defense attorney, Tara Breslow has over a decade of experience representing New Jersey clients in a variety of criminal matters, including assault, harassment, domestic violence, drug crimes, driving under the influence, fraud, sex crimes, theft offenses, and weapons charges. Call us toll-free at (732) 784-2880 to schedule an appointment to discuss your case. We are conveniently located in Freehold, Red Bank, Seaside Heights, and Long Beach Island, and serve clients throughout New Jersey.

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