4 Things About New Jersey's Justice Reform: How it became more and less like Pennsylvania

On January 1, 2017, New Jersey made some dramatic changes to its criminal justice system.   These reforms focused on the Garden State’s bail system and its speedy trial clock rules.

Traditionally, like Pennsylvania and many jurisdictions, the Garden State addressed bail based on a monetary system. In other words, the amount of bail was based on a combination of factors which included the offense, the accused’s prior criminal history (emphasis on violence) and the risk that a person would not appear for court (flight). Unlike, Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s new bail system isn’t based on money but a risk factor analysis. New Jersey’s criminal justice reform, however, didn’t stop with bail.

While New Jersey moved away from the Pennsylvania system with regards to bail, it moved closer to the Commonwealth with regards to its speedy trial clock rules. While I’ve written a previous article on Pennsylvania’s speedy trial clock rules, it may be hard to believe that New Jersey prior to this year, didn’t have any rules regarding speedy trial.

Bail and the right to a quick trial are too critical issues for any criminal defense. So if you are charged with an indictable crime in New Jersey, here are four (4) important things you must know about these changes.

1.  How will a judge determine if a person should be released prior to trial?

A judge will assess the level of risk an accused person presents and impose conditions of release. They will use an objective risk-assessment tool based on literally thousands of actual New Jersey cases. Factors that will determine release include the following:

  • The defendant’s age at the time of arrest
  • Pending charges
  • Prior convictions and whether any of those involved violence,
  • Prior failures to appear
  • Prior jail sentences

Following this risk assessment an accused person will be classified as low, moderate, or high risk. Those determined to be dangerous would be held without bail pending trial.

2.  How soon after an arrest is this risk assessment made?

A Court will make this risk assessment and pre-trial release determination within 24-48 hours following a person’s arrest. Prosecutors however, still can file a motion to detain a person even if their risk assessment is low based on theory that the person is flight risk with few if any in state contacts.

3.  Are all those released prior to trial subject to the same monitoring conditions?

No.   As a person’s risk assessment increases, so do their monitoring conditions. A low risk individual may be subject to few if any conditions. This could be something as simple as a phone call or text reminding them to come to court.  As the threat level increases, so does the monitoring. Pre-trial services officers will notify the court of any violations of release conditions.

4.  What were New Jersey’s previous speedy trial clock rules and how do the new rules change things?

Before this year, New Jersey didn’t have any speedy trial clock rules. Cases could sometimes take years to go from arrest to trial. While Pennsylvania’s rules apply to those in and out of custody, the New Jersey speedy trial laws only apply to defendants held in pretrial detention. The rules establish limits on how long a person can remain in custody without a trial. Here are the three limits

  • From arrest to indictment – No more than 90 days prior to return or unsealing of the indictment.
  • From indictment to trial – No more than 180 days before commencement of the trial but that court can grant additional time based on a prosecutor’s motion.
  • The total time limit from detention to trial – Two (2) years after the issuance of the detention order, excluding those delays attributed to the defendant, to the commencement of trial. There are also other days excludable from this calculation for pretrial motions, competency hearings, plea negotiations, the consent of the parties, and other excludable time.

For more information on these changes in New Jersey, call our office! We look forward to seeing and invite you to visit our free download section.