On January 1st of 2017, those who are arrested in New Jersey will face a much different, arguably fairer criminal justice system.  With help and advice from the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, the New Jersey Legislature crafted and Governor Christie signed into law sweeping changes in the way that bail is determined for criminal charges. This new system attempts to alleviate the problems that many poorer New Jersey residents faced, simply they could not afford to make bail payments. The New Jersey legislature recognized that many of those who could not afford bail payments and had to remain in prison until trial, did not pose a risk of harm to society and their community, and also did not pose a threat of fleeing from the criminal justice system. Therefore, on January 1st, 2017, those who are detained because of a crime will be subject to a new standard to determine if they should be released on bail, or without. As part of the New Jersey Bail Reform Act, those who are detained will be subject to a risk assessment to determine if the defendant poses a risk to the health and safety of others or if they are at risk of fleeing from the criminal justice system.

What is the Public Safety Assessment?

The bail reform law that is to take effect on January 1st creates a general presumption against preventive detention after a defendant is arrested. This means that when a defendant is arrested on a criminal charge, there is a general presumption against holding them in prison until the date of their trial. Previously, defendants who were charged with a crime in New Jersey could potentially be in jail for months as they waited for trial for their offense. In an effort to keep people out of jail while they were waiting for trial, the Bail Reform Act imposed a risk-based safety assessment, this assessment is meant to identify those who may pose a risk and separate them from those who do not. In a directive issued by the New Jersey Attorney General, current Attorney General Porrino, provided a quote about how prosecutors and police should implement this risk-based system.  “Our directive provides detailed guidance to prosecutors and police on how to use this new risk-based system to best protect the people of New Jersey while treating defendants fairly.”

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Under the new system, after an eligible defendant is temporarily detained the Pretrial Services Program will conduct a risk assessment on that individual for the purpose of making recommendations to the court concerning an appropriate pretrial release decision.

The process begins with a decision by police and prosecutors regarding whether to charge a defendant by either a complaint-warrant or a complaint-summons.  When a warrant is issued by a New Jersey Court, a defendant who has been accused of a crime must be taken to a county jail, where he or she will be held for up to 48 hours. Within this two-day time frame, the defendant will have the first appearance in court before a judge, where the judge will decide whether to detain the defendant or release the defendant. However, in order to assist the judge, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors as to whether the defendant should be released or detained, the Administrative Office of the Courts has developed a computer-based risk assessment, which is known as the Public Safety Assessment or PSA.

The PSA provides three pretrial risk indicators:

  • a six-point “failure-to-appear” scale gauging the likelihood the defendant will fail to appear in court;
  • a six-point “new criminal activity” scale gauging the likelihood the defendant will engage in new crimes if released; and
  • a “new violent criminal activity” flag, which flags defendants who are likely to engage in violent crimes if released.

The Risk assessment instrument and assessment is required to be objective, standardized, and developed based on analysis of empirical data and risk factors relevant to the risk of failure to appear in court when required and danger to the community,

In order to make a recommendation the assessment and officials will be required to gather demographic information about the eligible defendant including, but not limited to:

  • Race,
  • Ethnicity,
  • Gender
  • Financial resources,
  • Socioeconomic status

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Under this assessment tool, any recommendation for or against pretrial release shall not be discriminatory based on race, ethnicity gender or socio-economic status. If an eligible defendant is determined not to pose a risk of danger or of fleeing, then the court is free to release an eligible defendant on their own personal recognizance or release them on the execution of an unsecured appearance bond. The court may also choose to release a defendant with non-monetary conditions, or on a monetary bond other than a secured appearance bond.

Contact an Experienced Atlantic City Criminal Defense Lawyer

The criminal lawyers of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych are experienced practitioners with years of practice experience. Firm founder John J. Zarych has more than 40 years of experience practicing as a criminal defense attorney. An experienced, strategic, and aggressive Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer at the Law Firm of John J. Zarych will fight to protect you from the consequences of any arrest charges and other serious crimes. To schedule a no-cost initial case evaluation call our firm at (609) 616-4956 or contact us online today.