Criminal defendants in New Jersey would be held or released based on the risk they pose, rather than merely their ability to pay, under major changes to the state's bail system proposed by a panel led by the chief justice of New Jersey's Supreme Court, the New York Times reports. Gov. Chris Christie endorsed the finding. The panel, the Supreme Court Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, which includes judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, recommended that the legislature pass a speedy-trial law, setting specific timelines for indictments and trials.
The state Constitution requires that bail be set for all defendants charged with crimes that are not capital offenses. Recommending the changes yesterday, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said this presented problems “at both ends of the system”: people who pose little risk to public safety are held in jail because they cannot afford to pay even minimal bail, while even the most violent and dangerous defendants must be released if they make bail. A recent study cited in the report found that 12 percent of people held in New Jersey's county jails were there because they could not post bail of $2,500 or less. More than two-thirds of those 12 percent were minorities. Studies have shown that people who are held while awaiting trial are more likely to plead guilty, be convicted, and receive harsher prison sentences than defendants who are released pending trial.