New Jersey overhauled its bail system under Christie. Now some Democrats want to roll him back.
The new push in Trenton, likely to win supporters among Republicans who were already pushing to change the law, represents a stunning reversal for the social justice movement, demonstrating how recent calls for reform have given way to a new era of harshness. – criminal policy. It comes as Democrats like Eric Adams, a former cop and now New York City mayor, focus on a message focused on public safety every day.
One of New Jersey’s most powerful Democrats, state Senate budget chairman Paul Sarlo, is behind the new proposal. He introduced legislation that would create a “rebuttable presumption” of pre-trial detention for many serious offenses and “any other crime for which the prosecutor believes there is a serious risk” of flight, danger or obstruction. Another leading Democrat, Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari, says he is “open-minded.”
The proposal follows a new law signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in June that makes it easier to detain people charged with crimes involving gun possession.
“Bail reform was intended to help nonviolent people with mental illness and addiction stay out of jail,” Sarlo said in a phone interview. “It was not intended for violent, repeat offenders such as burglars and car thieves who belong in prison.”
“We have to fix the problem”
In 2014, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allowed judges to deny cash bail to defendants who posed a serious flight or security risk. At the same time, the legislature passed a bill creating a “public safety assessment” as an alternative to bail. Previously, New Jersey law had granted all defendants the right to bail, although those charged with capital offenses could be denied. When New Jersey eliminated the death penalty in 2007, all defendants became eligible for bail.
“We ended a debtors’ jail in New Jersey with these actions,” said Christie, who had his eye on the White House, while announcing the achievement.
The new system came into effect in January 2017.
The state’s court system maintains that the changes accomplish their primary purpose — to keep defendants charged with minor offenses from languishing in jail because they can’t afford a modest bond. There are few cases where those released without bail are charged with serious crimes, according to the justice system.
A report by the Courts Administration Office found that 12% of inmates in 2012 were held because they couldn’t post bail of $2,500 or less. By 2021, that figure had fallen to 0.4%. Defendants released without bail showed up in court 97% of the time in 2020, according to the report. They had turned up at similar rates under the cash bond system.
Much of the recent focus on the state’s crime rate — and the push to reverse bail changes — has been on the dramatic rise in auto theft. Murphy and the Democratic-led Legislature, which is up for re-election in 2023, are call for tougher penalties for car theft.
” I heard about it. I get it,” said Democrat William Spearman, chairman of the state Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, during a Dec. 5 hearing in Trenton on the auto theft in response to the Republican Jay Webber urging him to extend bail conditions. “I think we all agree that we have to fix the problem.”
Spearman cited information shared with him by some county sheriffs. But data shared by a sheriff that purported to link the bail review to increased auto theft doesn’t actually make a clear connection.
Shaun Golden, the sheriff of Monmouth County near the Jersey Shore, recently circulates a painting in the press which showed that the number of auto thefts in New Jersey in the first nine months of each year rose from less than 8,800 in 2017 to 10,702 in 2022. But those arrests dropped significantly after changes to bond backed by Christie, before climbing even more dramatically in 2021, falling to just under 7,600 in 2020 before climbing to almost 9,000 in 2021 and 10,700 in 2022.
Golden followed by statistics showing that dozens of suspects who were released for car theft have been rearrested for similar offences.
“Some have reoffended five or six times,” Golden said in a phone interview, adding that car theft rings use minors, who face a more lenient criminal justice system, as “mules.”
“Ultimately, the pendulum swung the other way. We don’t have a recognizance, re-education of these individuals. They just keep reoffending and being released,” Golden said.
The Battle of New York
New York’s own bail review has increasingly been blamed for rising crime in New York, with opponents pointing to specific violent incidents of people being released and then committing new offenses.
“Everyone agreed that the way bail was being used was, in many ways, unfair,” New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in an interview with POLITICO last month. . “We didn’t take all the bails, but what we said for misdemeanors and non-violent felons, that bail requirement wouldn’t exist.”
While data shows recidivism rates remained low after Democrats eased bail conditions in the state, Republicans have effectively used the changes to hammer Democrats this year — even after the Governor Kathy Hochul, seeing this as a campaign vulnerability, successfully pushed lawmakers in April to roll back some changes.
The GOP won three additional House seats in New York and Republican Lee Zeldin hosted one of the most competitive gubernatorial races since 1994 citing bail laws as the reason for statewide crime spikes. New York Democrats heading into 2023 still seem reluctant to revisit bail laws like they did in the last legislative session, despite Adams’ insistence.
“We need to bring these lawmakers who just don’t have a real sense of what’s happening on the streets, we need to align them with what New Yorkers want every day when it comes to public safety,” Adams said. Tuesday on WABC radio.
Not everyone is on board
New Jersey law gives judges more leeway than New York law in deciding whether or not to jail defendants. The New York law is unique in that it prevents judges from considering a defendant’s perceived dangerousness when considering bail.
Supporters of criminal justice reform say New Jersey Democrats are bowing to political pressure that is making the state bail review a scapegoat for crime trends seen nationwide, including in states that have not enacted similar bond amendments.
“We’ve seen this nationwide trend of elected officials introducing tough-on-crime bills that increase or introduce penalties, and we know that these efforts run counter to literally decades of research and data that demonstrate that harsh sentences do not work to prevent crime and often harm individuals and communities of color,” ACLU-NJ policy director Sarah Fajardo said in a telephone interview.
Henal Patel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice said lawmakers were looking for a simple solution to a complicated problem.
“There are rising crime rates, but instead of trying to tackle what’s causing them in a real way, there seems to be this instinctive, misguided attempt to choose anything and… ‘go with it,’ she said. Petal also noted that New Jersey faces a massive shortage of judges, which could keep defendants in jail for longer periods.
Charles McKenna, a lawyer who held several high-ranking posts in the Christie administration and helped draft the 2014 bail law, said Sarlo’s legislation doesn’t just tinker around the edges of the law, but “almost swallows it”.
McKenna said the bill places the burden of proof on defendants whenever a prosecutor claims there is a flight risk, as opposed to the reverse in the current law. If a defendant violates the conditions of his temporary release or commits another crime during this period, the bill would require judges to detain him unless the court finds “clear and convincing evidence” that he will not ask risk.
“So every time the prosecutor says there’s a flight risk, I get a rebuttable presumption? … It overturns the law,” McKenna said. “We wanted to make sure that detention was not abused by prosecutors. I’m not saying prosecutors will abuse it, but it certainly gives them the tools to abuse it.
McKenna also said the bail review could not be blamed on juvenile misdemeanors. “People are using minors to commit crimes because it’s a different system,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether the bill will progress through the legislative process. The senators plan to hold a hearing on auto theft on December 19, and the bill may appear in the discussion then.
“People who probably should be detained aren’t,” said Democratic Sen. Joe Lagana, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sarlo and is expected to face a competitive re-election race. “It looks like there was a huge over-correction.”