NJ Supreme Court Tightens Bail Reform Rules For Gun Crimes, Repeat Offenders
TRENTON -- New Jersey's highest court on Thursday adopted changes to the state's new bail system that will make it more likely those accused of gun crimes and repeat offenders are locked up until trial.
The changes come just a few months into the massive overhaul of the Garden State's criminal justice system, which had come under criticism during its rollout.
"Based on a review of empirical data and the legitimate concerns raised by various segments of the criminal justice community, we concluded that it was necessary to change how the system treats defendants arrested for certain types of offenses," said Judge Glenn A. Grant, the acting administrative director of the state court system.
The new system, which started in January, replaced cash bail in most cases with an arrangement where judges can order defendants jailed without bail based in part on a risk assessment that weighs the suspect's criminal history and the charges they face.
The purpose of the change was to allow judges to lock up violent criminals and release those accused of minor offenses who would languish in jail just because they could not afford bail.
Certain charges -- including murder, sexual assault, and other violent crimes -- came with a presumption of jail time.
Elected officials and some prosecutors complained too many people accused of gun crimes or repeat offenses were being released into the new pretrial services system, which monitors those ordered allowed to return home to await trial.
Attorney General Christopher Porrino's office had requested the changes enacted by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
They came just a day after Porrino issued a new directive to prosecutors calling on them to seek detention in more cases, including those involving gun crimes and sex offenses. Under the new system, judges can only order a defendant locked up if prosecutors request it.
A pair of Democratic lawmakers from Hudson County, Sens. Sandra Cunningham and Brian Stack, introduced legislation in April to similar ends.
But critics of the changes say the whole point of New Jersey's bail reform was to keep fewer people facing trial in jail. In letters to the court last month, the New Jersey's public defender and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the attorney general's request unnecessary and premature.
The New Jersey Second Amendment Society, a gun rights group, also sent an e-mail to supporters this week voicing opposition to tougher pre-trial sanctions for those accused of gun crimes.
Under the changes approved by the Supreme Court, defendants charged with a range of gun and weapons offenses would face a recommendation of detention, though a judge will still have final say.
Those accused of committing multiple offenses while on pretrial release would also increase their chances of being thrown in jail.