Possible Amendment to NJ Constitution Allowing Denial of Bail for Violent Offenders
A committee in the State Senate of New Jersey held a hearing yesterday on a proposed amendment to allow judges to consider potential “dangerousness” of a defendant when setting bail in criminal cases. (Full Story Here) While Republican Governor Christie and the Democratic state legislature have not agreed on other parts of Gov. Christie’s agenda, this particular amendment seems to be progressing through the legislative process.
Debate on Bail in New Jersey
At present, the only two states that do not allow a judge to consider the potential “dangerousness” of a criminal at a bail hearing are New Jersey and New York. Supporters of the amendment feel that allowing judges to deny bail to allegedly violent offenders will keep potentially dangerous criminals off the streets while they are awaiting trial. Supporters also feel that ensuring that accused violent offenders are not released between arrest and trial will make witnesses more comfortable and willing to testify. Some claim that witness intimidation is a problem, especially in Philadelphia and Camden, that New Jersey legislators hope to remedy with this amendment.
However, opponents of the amendment, including many New Jersey criminal defense attorneys, feel this new measure would prompt judges to deny bail more often in cases involving alleged violent criminals. This is because it is easier for a judge to deny bail when a recent amendment allows it, rather than releasing a defendant or ordering bail and running the relatively small risk that the offender will commit other violent acts while released.
Opponents also point to the fact that in the American legal system, criminal defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. Incarcerating every (or most) accused violent criminals, even those who are later exonerated and cleared of the charges, could lead to overpopulation in the states penitentiary system unnecessarily. That, of course, is of minor consequence compared to the fundamental unfairness of heaping penalties on individuals merely for accusations instead of convictions for crimes. Gun charges and violent offenses often take a year or more to be tried, and the State is often pressured to charge quickly, even though there are often significant proof issues, such as identification problems..
Help with New Jersey Bail Hearings
Our Burlington County criminal defense lawyer understands that the time between arrest and trial can be difficult for people accused of violent crimes. It is important to know your rights throughout this process. Currently under New Jersey’s constitution, judges may not consider the potential “dangerousness” of an alleged criminal offender when making a determination on bail. This is important because it means that if you are innocent and merely accused of a violent crime a judge cannot deny you bail simply because he thinks you may be a danger to the community. While bail can be denied for a variety of other reasons, it is important to recognize your rights as they currently stand under our state’s constitution.
The first step when charged with any criminal offense in New Jersey is to contact an attorney. A competent attorney can assist you with bail hearings, help you recognize your options, and plan a strategy to fight any charges leveled against you.
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