Bar Association supports a holistic approach to bail reform

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The New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) released a statement saying the group supports a holistic approach to bail reform.

The association is the largest group of judges, lawyers and other legal professionals in the state and counts among its members representatives of all those involved in criminal law cases, including prosecutors, public defenders, individual rights advocates, and judges.

With that experience and insight, the NJSBA backs the proposed constitutional amendment, SCR-128, in tandem with the critical implementing legislation, S-946/A-1910, that addresses pretrial detention, speedy trial and funding issues.

 

The NJSBA supports proposals that pretrial detention should be applied to limited classes of defendants, specifically those accused of the most serious crimes, either a first-degree crime or select second-degree offenses, limited to possession of a weapon with intent to cause harm and the commission of a burglary while armed.

The lawyers’ group supports the concept of a speedy trial for all defendants in a criminal case, based upon the constitutional presumption of innocence. It is of utmost concern when a defendant is incarcerated prior to a guilt determination, but it should be addressed for all defendants, as a liberty interest is at stake in every criminal matter, regardless of detention status.

The additional speedy trial and other requirements this legislation would impose on the court system requires that funding be made available to compensate for the strain this will place on all government agencies involved in the criminal justice process, from the public defenders and prosecutors who represent the parties to the judges and court staff and judges who oversee the cases.

Adequate funding should be made available for court personnel, including pretrial services personnel, and superior court and Appellate Division judges who will be tasked with hearing additional matters. Funding should also be provided for county prosecutor’s offices and the state Office of the Public Defender, who are integral to these cases.

The NJSBA supports using filing fee increases to raise $27 million to allow the Judiciary to enact e-Courts and funding for Legal Services of New Jersey. To address the proposed bail reform changes, the association believes other sources of funding should be used, rather than filing fees.

Gov. Chris Christie called a special session of the Legislature to address bail issues before heading off on his latest out of state trip to New Hampshire. Lawmakers must approve a ballot measure with 60 percent support in both houses for a constitutional amendment to appear on the November ballot.

Approval with a simple majority in two consecutive sessions would allow voters to decide the issue in 2015.


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