Answer to Your Questions About New Jersey Bail Reform
What is bail?
Bail is a financial surety to guarantee a defendant’s appearance at trial. In order to receive the money back, you have to show up at court.
My loved one was arrested, and I was told I couldn’t bail them out. What’s going on?
As of January 1, 2017, New Jersey no longer uses a monetary bail system. Under the new law, you must go to jail if you are arrested, no matter how much money you have.
Does every charged defendant sit in jail while their case is being tried?
No. A judge will decide whether a defendant stays in jail or is released while the case continues.
Does this happen for every person who is arrested?
No. When someone is charged with committing a crime, law enforcement makes a decision to charge the defendant in one of two documents: a summons or a warrant. If a defendant is charged on a summons, they are given a court date and released. If a defendant is charged in a warrant, they are sent to jail and a judge decides if they should remain detained until the case is over.
Does everyone charged in a warrant go to jail, even if the charge is minor?
Unfortunately, yes. Trust me, I understand how frustrating this can be. This is why getting an attorney as soon as possible is important. Having an attorney early on in a case may prevent some difficulties.
What happens after the accused go to jail? Do they sit in a cell until the case is over?
No. The law requires the defendant to appear before a judge within 48 hours of their arrest. A prosecutor will then review the defendant’s case and determines whether or not it is appropriate to continue detention until the case is over. If the prosecutor wants to detain or arrest the defendant, he or she must file a motion with the judge.
Can the prosecutor file a motion whenever they feel like it?
Short version: Yes.
Long version: While prosecutors are afforded a lot of discretion, the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey has developed bail guidelines advising prosecutors when they should apply for continued detention.
What if the charge is minor, like shoplifting? Can the prosecutor still file a motion seeking detention?
If the prosecutor files a motion at the first appearance in front of a judge, can I talk to the judge and convince them to release my loved one?
No. There is nothing you or an attorney can do at the first appearance in front of a judge. Once the prosecutor files the motion, the defendant will not be released that day.
Will my loved one have to sit in jail until the case is over?
Not necessarily. The law requires that a detention hearing take place within three working days of the prosecutor filing a motion to detain the defendant.
What happens at the detention hearing?
Prior to the detention hearing, Pre-Trial Services — a division of Probation and the Courts — will review the defendant’s case and produce a document called a Public Safety Assessment.
What’s a public safety assessment?
Each defendant is assessed on the risk they will fail to appear in court and the risk they will commit another crime if released. A number of factors are considered when creating this document, including a defendant’s criminal history, the crimes alleged and the defendant’s history of coming to court. Each defendant is then assigned a numerical value between one and six reflecting Pre-Trial Services’ assessment of those risks. The lower the number, the lower the risk. Pre-Trial Services also makes a recommendation to the judge as to whether a defendant should be detained or released.
Does a probation officer decide if a defendant is detained?
No. While the judge can consider the Public Safety Assessment, the judge ultimately makes the final decision and can rule against the recommendation from Pre-Trial Services.
What happens at the hearing?
Typically, the prosecutor will introduce certain documents into evidence, including the complaint and probable cause statement (a document summarizing the allegations). The prosecutor will then argue to the judge that the defendant should be detained. The defendant’s attorney can respond to those arguments and argue that the defendant should be released.
Does anyone testify at the hearing?
Not usually. The prosecutor can proffer documents, or offer evidence in the form of documents in support of the case. In that instance, a live witness does not need to testify. However, a defendant is permitted to do the same thing.
How will I know the details of what the prosecutor is alleging?
The prosecutor is required to hand over a substantial amount of discovery (police reports, etc.) at the pre-trial detention hearing. This is one of the only good things about a detention hearing — we get to see the prosecutor’s file a lot faster.
What happens if the judge detains my loved one?
If the judge detains the defendant, the defendant will likely be detained until the case is over. There is an expedited appeal process, but it is very difficult to overturn the judge’s decision. In addition, part of the bail reform statute imposes some strict time constraints on the prosecutor, who is required to indict the defendant within 90 days.
What if the judge releases my loved one?
If the judge releases the defendant, there may be some strings attached. For example, the defendant may have to report to probation every other week in person to ensure they did not flee. Some defendants are also required to wear an electronic ankle monitor to verify their location.
What do I do when my loved one gets arrested and goes to county jail?
The very first thing you should do is contact an attorney. Not only can an attorney answer questions that are specific to your case, an attorney can also represent your family member at a detention hearing. The new bail reform law is complicated, so it’s important to speak to an attorney with experience in this arena.
Can you explain this more?
Absolutely. Our team at Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates is always available to answer your questions during a free consultation. Call our office at 609-216-7400 to get in touch.