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Proposed New Jersey Law Will Restrict Bail for Violent Offenders

The law in New Jersey regarding bail for defendants arrested for a violent crime may change. Governor, Chris Christie, is advocating for a bill to be passed in the state legislature that would give judges in New Jersey the ability to deny bail to a defendant charged with a violent crime and who poses a danger to the community. Currently, a defendant’s level of “dangerousness” is not used as a factor to determine bail under state law.

In New Jersey every defendant is entitled to receive bail; however, New Jersey is one of two states, New York being the other, that does not allow judges to deny bail on the basis of how allegedly dangerous a defendant may be. In comparison, judges in Pennsylvania deny bail to any defendant charged with murder. In New Jersey, the more dangerous a defendant allegedly is, the higher bail is set. Christie’s proposal would allow state judges in New Jersey to keep individuals deemed dangerous in jail before trial.

However, detainment before trial is often detrimental to those who are eventually acquitted or have their case dismissed. Denial of bail makes it harder for a criminal defendant to prepare a legal defense for trial, and it also impacts that person in important areas of life. A person denied bail may face loss of employment, loss of child custody and loss of housing. If a charged individual is later found not guilty or if the charges are later dropped, there is no easy way to undo the non-legal consequences. As many as one in five defendants denied bail before trial is later acquitted or had the case dismissed.

Supporters of the legislation say that witnesses of violent crimes will feel more comfortable coming forward to talk, but those concerned with the legislation worry whether judges will feel pressure to deny bail to everyone accused of a violent crime. If the bill is passed, those concerned hope the new law provides judges with discretion to consider the risk to the community and not deny judges the option to release a defendant charged with a violent crime on bail.

Source: The Inquirer, “New Jersey Looks to Restrict Bail for Violent Offenders,” Joelle Farrell, June 14, 2012

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