Criminal justice reform has taken place in New Jersey. Starting January 1, 2017, there will be a completely new system concerning arrests, bail, pre-trial detention, and time limitations concerning speedy trials. Here are some of the highlights concerning the new system:
Release Without Posting a Money Bail
If you are charged on a Summons, there will no longer be a money bail set. You will be released after your arrest and processing without the need to post money bail. Previously a money bail was often set for a person, even if charged only on a Summons. Some people ended up sitting in county jail when they were unable to post such a bail, even though that person posed no threat to the community and presented no flight risk. Now, if you are charged via summons, you will not be sent to County Jail, and you will not be required to post money bail. The decision to charge you on a Summons rather than on a Warrant will be made by the senior law enforcement officer on duty in the arresting police department. While there are guidelines, it appears that there will be a great deal of discretion in the hands of law enforcement concerning this decision.
Mandatory Arrest and Detention in County Jail if charged on a Warrant
If you are charged on a Warrant, rather than a Summons, the arresting law enforcement office must send you to County Jail. You will no longer be given a monetary bail. Previously, a bail amount would have been set and you or your family would have the opportunity to post that bail and avoid your incarceration in county jail. Now, you will not have that opportunity. If charged on a Warrant, you will be required to sit in the county jail for up to (48) hours. During that time the Prosecutor will make a determination if the State will seek to detain you further, pending trial. If the State does not move to detain you, you will be released after the initial (48) hour time period. If the State seeks to detain you, you will be detained (5) more days for a detention hearing. At that hearing, the Court will determine whether you must be detained pending trial, or if you can be released to the community with conditions. No money will be required if you are released with conditions.
The Prosecutor’s decision to move to detain you pre-trial will be based upon a risk assessment made by a computer program. The information that will influence the decision includes analysis of different factors such as: prior criminal history, prior violent criminal history, prior failure to appear at court, and current or new violent offense. Once the State moves to detain you, it will be the Court’s decision whether to agree with the State or not.
The Risk assessment is official entitled the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), which is the evidence-based tool that New Jersey will use to evaluate risk and to aid in informing the release or detention decisions required pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 et. seq. (the Bail Reform Law). Information explaining the risk factors and formulas can be found at http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/PSA-Risk-Factors-and-Formula.pdf.
The pretrial risk assessment tool uses evidence-based, neutral information to predict the likelihood that an individual will commit a new crime if released before trial, and to predict the likelihood that he/she will fail to return for a future court hearing. In addition, the public safety assessment flags those defendants who present an elevated risk of committing a violent crime.
The nine risk factors that will be considered by the PSA analysis include:
- Age at current offense,
- Current violent offense
2a. Current violence offense and 20 years old or younger,
- Pending charge at the time of the offense,
- Prior disorderly persons conviction,
- Prior indictable conviction,
5a. Prior conviction,
- Prior violent conviction,
- Prior failure to appear pretrial in the past two years,
- Prior failure to appear pretrial older than two years, and
- Prior sentence to incarceration.
The PSA relies solely on the above nine variables. It does not rely on factors such as race, ethnicity or geography. Each of the nine factors is analyzed and then measures or predicts whether a defendant will commit new criminal activity, will commit new violent criminal activity, or will fail to appear in court if released before trial.
Each of the risk factors is weighted and assigned points according to the strength of the relationship between the risk factor and the specific pretrial outcome. The PSA calculates a raw score for each of the outcomes. Scores for new criminal activity and failure to appear are converted to separate scales of 1 to 6, with higher scores indicating a greater level of risk. The raw score for new violent criminal activity is used to determine whether the defendant should be flagged as posing an elevated risk of violence.
The PSA is a decision making tool for judges and is not intended to functionally replace judicial discretion. Judges will continue to be the stewards of our judicial system and the ultimate arbiters of the conditions that should apply to each defendant.
If you are facing criminal charges and need guidance through the uncharted waters ahead, contact Michael C. Mormando, Esquire at 856-235-0220. Michael is the Co-Chair of the Criminal Practice Committee for the Burlington County Bar Association, a former Supervising Attorney with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, and in private practice represents clients and their families in cases ranging from traffic tickets to homicides.
Michael C. Mormando
Burlington County Bar Association
Attorneys Hartman, Chartered
68 East Main Street
Moorestown, NJ 08057