After being arrested, many people in New Jersey can’t afford to post bail. Consequently, thousands of individuals in our state remain incarcerated before and during their trials. People facing criminal charges also have the right to a speedy trial. However, sometimes more than a year passes before defendants are allowed to have their day in court.

Legislators, judges, attorneys and advocates from a variety of backgrounds intend to change New Jersey’s bail system in order to protect defendants’ rights and reduce the number of people who remain jailed prior to trial.

New Jersey’s bail system is seen by many as unfair to lower-income defendants, and last year Chief Justice Stuart Rabner appointed a committee to analyze the system for flaws. The committee recently returned a number of recommendations.

In general, the proposed changes would take the emphasis off of whether an arrestee has enough money to post bail. Rather, it was recommended that judges be given more discretion in deciding whether a defendant actually poses a flight risk or a threat to the community. If these risks are deemed to be low, then the accused could be released without bail and perhaps monitored.

Since fewer people would be jailed prior to trial, Chief Justice Rabner expects the proposals, if enacted, would result in “millions in savings at the county level.” Later in the year, the New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to make final recommendations regarding bail reform.

A foundational principle of the criminal justice system is that defendants are presumed innocent unless prosecutors can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if an arrest leads to a lengthy time in jail prior to trial, accused individuals would be wise to explore the full range of defense options.

Source: NJ.com, “NJ Supreme Court committee urges historic changes to state’s bail system,” Thomas Zambito, March 20, 2014