Monday, August 5, 2019
With the introduction of bail-reform into the New Jersey Criminal Justice System at the start of 2017, many questions arose regarding the scope of its implementation and what potential consequences could arise. With bipartisan support, the New Jersey Bail Reform attempts to shift the criminal justice approach from a resource-based system to a risk-assessment based system. Proponents of the change argue that it should help to eliminate disparate treatment of justice against lower-income defendants without the financial means to pay monetary bail.
Under the newly adopted system, a Pretrial Services Team was established in order to conduct risk-assessments of detained defendants, with the goal of reducing jail time for defendants posing minimal risk of flight and minimal risk of danger to others. Simultaneously, Bail Reform also seeks to impose more stringent restrictions upon defendants who pose a significant risk of flight and danger to others, thereby preventing release simply because they have the ability to pay monetary bail.
The risk-assessment-algorithm takes into consideration nine separate factors which make up the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) score used to determine viability for release. These factors include: age at current arrest, current violent offense, pending charges, prior misdemeanor conviction, prior felony conviction, prior violent conviction, prior failure to appear in past two years, prior failure to appear older than two years, and prior sentence to incarceration. A defendant’s score, calculated by these factors, is used to determine upon a defendant’s viability for release based upon the statistical likelihood that the defendant may fail to appear in court, or commit additional crimes upon release. Moreover, with select offenses such as gun possession, the risk-assessment algorithm will automatically recommend detention. Upon scoring a defendant, a judge may still use personal discretion in deciding to release or detain a Defendant in order to account for individual variances.
Opponents of Bail Reform program argue that increasing the ease with which a defendant may be released from jail poses a substantial risk for the public. In response, proponents of Bail Reform cite a report from the Administrative Office of the Courts, which argues that the increase in crimes being committed by released defendants remains marginal at best, while drastically reducing the pretrial jail population. Detractors, however, argue that the increased rate of crime should not be considered marginal. To that point, the rate of new indictable offenses committed while on a Pretrial Release rose from 12.7% in 2014 to 13.7% in 2018, constituting a 7.87% increase. Similarly, disorderly persons offenses committed while on pretrial release rose from 11.5% in 2014 to 13.2% in 2018, constituting a 14.78% increase. Finally, the failure-to-appear rates rose from 7.3% in 2014 to 10.6% in 2018, constituting a 45.21% increase. While the significance of these figures remains contested, proponents of Bail Reform maintain that the reduction in the pretrial jail population, a 43.9% decrease since December 31, 2015, is evidence that Bail Reform program is working as intended.
About the Author
Arthur G. Margeotes, Esq. is a Partner in the Criminal Law Department in the Parsippany, New Jersey office who handles a variety of criminal legal proceedings. Arthur is proficient in criminal defense of both adult and juvenile cases, as well as criminal, DUI (Driving Under the Influence), and motor vehicle cases in front of municipal courts. He has represented law enforcement officers in both administrative and criminal cases. In Family Law matters, Arthur prepares and files Domestic Violence Restraining Orders and will follow through with hearings and, if need be, trials.
Arthur G. Margeotes’ extensive career has included over 28 years as a prosecutor and work experience in The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office and The United State’s Attorney’s Office. To contact Arthur, click here.