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Understanding Criminal Justice Reform in New Jersey

On Behalf of | Jul 16, 2019 | Criminal Justice |

On January 1, 2017, New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform Act went into effect. This abolished the state’s previously existing bail system. The Act is based on the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty and innocent people should not be in jail. This doesn’t mean that everyone who is arrested is automatically released until it is time for them to appear in court. With the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, a person can only be held if releasing them would pose an unacceptable flight risk or pose a danger to their community.

Inspiration for Criminal Justice Reform

The results of a New Jersey jail population analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance revealed that 12% of the state’s jail population were held simply because they couldn’t meet the bail requirement of $2,500 or less. Of that 12%, which consisted of 1547 people, 800 were unable to come up with even $500 for bail. All of these people were innocent until proven guilty.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act is the result of a non-partisan effort. Advocates and officials who often find themselves on opposite sides of an issue worked together to improve the pretrial justice system and make it fairer. Then Governor Christie, the Judiciary, Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Public Defender along with the ACLU-NJ came to realize that too often the premise of innocent until proven guilty was dictated by the defendant’s financial situation. This left many who posed little or no risk of flight or danger to the community to remain incarcerated until they were due to appear in court. Yet, those accused of more heinous crimes and posing a greater risk but with sufficient financial means to make bail and potentially flee, are released into the community.

How the New Pretrial System Works

Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act, not only is the bail system eliminated but there is also a new speedy trial law that sets a timeline for criminal cases to be heard in court. Once someone has been arrested, the police will contact a judge who will determine the case proceeds as a summons or a warrant. A summons is a legal notice, in which the court orders an individual either to appear or to produce a document before the court, at a stipulated time and place. A warrant is a legal document issued by the court, empowering the police to make an arrest, search or seize premises or undertake any action, concerning the administration of justice. In the case of a summons, the defendant is released. In the case of a warrant, the defendant will appear before a judge within 48 hours to determine the conditions of release. Those conditions could range from a phone call reminding them to appear in court to house arrest, electronic monitoring or pretrial detention.

As mentioned, the Criminal Justice Reform Act provides for a speedy trial. This allows for a finite period of time to elapse between arrest to indictment and indictment to trial with appropriate exclusions for certain proceedings. With this change, a pretrial services division will conduct risk assessments which will help judges and the court decides how to set conditions of release for criminal defendants. As a result of this reform, all defendants, except those facing life imprisonment, are now entitled to a presumption of release.

Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been accused or arrested for a criminal offense, all the legalities and consequences that are associated with it can be confusing and ultimately life-altering. It’s important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process toward the best possible outcome. Andy Weinstein is that attorney. Andy started his own law practice because he saw a need for diligent defense attorneys who both know the system and will thoughtfully and forcefully protect their clients to the end. Specializing in criminal defense, he accurately assesses your circumstances and provides you with top-notch representation. Schedule a consultation with Andy and experience for yourself what makes Andy Weinstein Law unique. You’ll never think of lawyers the same way again!