Pre-trial Release in New Jersey

 Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey, we can help. The first step anytime you are facing charges or believe you may be under investigation is to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your options. We regularly defend clients who are charged with a wide variety of offenses in New Jersey, including in counties such as Camden, Somerset, Hunterdon, Ocean, Cape May, and Atlantic County. We offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to any potential client who is under investigation or who is facing criminal charges. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

How does bail work in New Jersey?

New Jersey recently implemented a bail system which is very different from the systems in place in most of the rest of the country in that New Jersey no longer relies on cash bail. New Jersey's system closely mirrors the systems in use in Washington, D.C. and the federal courts. However, the system is probably more favorable to defendants in that the majority of criminal defendants are released pending trial.

The first step in the criminal justice system in any state is typically the bail determination. In other words, the first hearing is to determine whether the defendant will be released pending trial or detained. In Pennsylvania, courts still rely on cash bail in determining whether or not a defendant should be released pending trial. This means that a magistrate sets the bail amount at a preliminary arraignment, and if the defendant can pay that bail (usually 10% of the set amount), then the defendant will be released pending trial and will not spend any time in jail unless convicted.

A cash bail system is inherently unfair because it allows wealthier defendants to be released pending trial in even the most serious cases short of homicide while poorer defendants could languish in jail for years until their trial date. Because they are stuck in jail pending trial dates, which often get delayed, those defendants face a tremendous incentive to take a plea deal in order to get out of jail. Although Philadelphia’s new District Attorney has made promises to end cash bail, this has not happened yet.

Changes to New Jersey’s Bail System  

New Jersey’s new bail system, although not perfect, resolves many of those problems. In January 2017, New Jersey switched to an entirely new system that almost completely does away with cash bail. According to a recent Philly.com article, only 44 New Jersey defendants were required to pay bail in exchange for release in 2017. Instead, when a defendant is arrested in New Jersey, it is generally presumed for most offenses that the defendant will be released. If the prosecution looks at the offense and the defendant’s background and believes either that the defendant is a risk to the community, likely to try to intimidate witnesses, or unlikely to appear for court, then the prosecution may file a motion for pre-trial detention.

The first court date in New Jersey is typically the first appearance. Most defendants will receive a summons to appear for the first appearance, and it is generally expected that the prosecution will file a motion for pre-trial detention prior to the first appearance. If the prosecution does not file the motion for pre-trial detention, then the defendant will be released pending trial and will remain free unless the circumstances change. A change in circumstances could include the defendant picking up new criminal charges or failing to appear for court. Barring that, the defendant will usually remain free pending trial. 

What offenses could result in pre-trial detention in New Jersey?

The prosecution may only file a motion for pre-trial detention in cases involving indictable offenses or in disorderly persons offenses involving domestic violence. If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense that does not involve domestic violence, then you should not ordinarily be detained pending trial.   

When will the detention hearing occur?

If the prosecution files a motion for pre-trial detention, then the Superior Court judge assigned to the case or to pre-trial detention hearings must hold a hearing on the motion within three days of the filing of the motion. The prosecution or defense counsel may request a continuance of the hearing, but unless one of the parties shows good cause, the continuance may not exceed five business days if made by the defense. If made by the prosecution, the continuance of the pre-trial detention hearing may not exceed three business days. The court has the authority to detain the defendant until the hearing, which is why the rule limits the length of these continuances absent a showing of good cause. 

What happens at a pre-trial detention hearing in New Jersey?

The pre-trial detention hearing looks relatively similar to a bail hearing under the previous law. The defendant has the right to an attorney, meaning he or she may retain an attorney and have that attorney present. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, then the court must appoint an attorney for the defendant. The defense has the right to present witnesses and evidence and cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, and the defendant always has the right to be present at the hearing. In order to have a defendant held pending trial, the prosecution must show two things:

First, the prosecution must show that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime charged. If the defendant has not been indicted yet, then the prosecution must present evidence to the court to establish probable cause. This would often involve presenting police reports or testimony from the lead detective in the case to the court. If the defendant has already been indicted by a grand jury, then probable cause exists and the prosecution does not again have to show probable cause.

Second, the prosecution must show that the defendant is a flight risk, likely to obstruct justice, or a danger to the community. The prosecution must make this showing at a clear and convincing evidence standard. For a limited number of offenses, there is a presumption that the defendant is a flight risk and danger to the community. These are offenses like murder, rape, and other offenses which are punishable with a life sentence in prison. For most offenses, however, there is a presumption that the defendant should be released. If there is a presumption that the defendant should be detained due to the nature of the offense charged, then the defendant must present evidence in order to rebut the presumption assuming that the prosecution establishes probable cause. If the presumption is that the defendant should be released, then the prosecutor must present evidence that the defendant should be held pending trial.

New Jersey’s new law created a new office of Statewide Pretrial Services which is charged with creating risk assessment reports for each defendant who is charged with an offense for which they could be detained. The Pretrial Services office will gather information about the defendant and prepare a report for the court along with a recommendation as to whether the defendant should be released. When making its detention decision, the trial court is directed to consider the following factors:

a. The nature and circumstances of the offense charged;

b. The weight of the evidence against the eligible defendant, except that the court may consider the admissibility of any evidence sought to be excluded;

c. The history and characteristics of the eligible defendant, including:

(1)the eligible defendant's character, physical and mental condition, family ties, employment, financial resources, length of residence in the community, community ties, past conduct, history relating to drug or alcohol abuse, criminal history, and record concerning appearance at court proceedings; and

(2)whether, at the time of the current offense or arrest, the eligible defendant was on probation, parole, or on other release pending trial, sentencing, appeal, or completion of sentence for an offense under federal law, or the law of this or any other state;

d. The nature and seriousness of the danger to any other person or the community that would be posed by the eligible defendant's release, if applicable;

e. The nature and seriousness of the risk of obstructing or attempting to obstruct the criminal justice process that would be posed by the eligible defendant's release, if applicable; and

f. The release recommendation of the pretrial services program obtained using a risk assessment instrument under section 11 of P.L.2014, c.31 (C.2A:162-25).

The recommendation of the Pretrial Services report is extremely important to the court. However, if either side disagrees with the recommendation, that attorney for that party may present evidence and argument as to why the recommendation is wrong.  

Because there is a presumption that most defendants be released, the result of this new system has been that most defendants are being released pending trial.

What conditions could the court impose on my release? 

New Jersey provides for different levels of supervision upon release which could include checking in regularly with a pre-trial officer by phone or in person or even house arrest with electronic monitoring. However, even in very serious cases, many defendants who would have been detained on exorbitant bail under the old system are now released pending trial. This means that they may continue working, going to school, and will have much easier access to their attorney and a greater ability to prepare for trial.

Can I appeal a pre-trial detention decision? Can the prosecutor appeal?

Both the defense and the prosecution may appeal a pre-trial detention decision to New Jersey’s appellate court. Either side may appeal to the appellate court by filing a notice of appeal within 48 hours of the trial court’s decision to either detain or release the defendant. Additionally, either side may file a motion to re-open the trial court’s decision with the trial judge if new circumstances or information comes to light.  

Facing Criminal Charges in New Jersey? We can help.

 Criminal Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers regularly defend clients in the criminal courts throughout New Jersey. We have successfully defended thousands of clients in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation for a crime, we offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding criminal defense attorney today.

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New Jersey’s Pre-trial Detention Rule

Rule 3:4A. Pretrial Detention

(a) Timing of Motion. A prosecutor may file a motion at any time seeking the pretrial detention of a defendant for whom a complaint-warrant or warrant on indictment is issued for an initial charge involving an indictable offense, or a disorderly persons offense involving domestic violence, as provided in N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 et seq. A defendant who is the subject of a warrant on indictment is an eligible defendant pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 et seq.

(b) Hearing on Motion.

(1) A pretrial detention hearing shall be held before a Superior Court judge no later than the defendant’s first appearance unless the defendant or the prosecutor seeks a continuance or the prosecutor files a motion at or after the defendant’s first appearance. If the prosecutor files a motion at or subsequent to the defendant’s first appearance the pretrial detention hearing shall be held within three working days of the date of the prosecutor’s motion unless the defendant or prosecutor seek a continuance. Except for good cause, a continuance on motion of the defendant may not exceed five days, not including any intermediate Saturday, Sunday or holiday. Except for good cause, a continuance on motion of the prosecutor may not exceed three days, not including any intervening Saturday, Sunday or holiday. The Superior Court judge in making the pretrial detention decision may take into account information as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:162-20.

(2) The defendant shall have a right to be represented by counsel and, if indigent, to have counsel appointed if he or she cannot afford counsel. The defendant shall be provided discovery pursuant to Rule 3:4-2(c)(1)(B). The defendant shall be afforded the right to testify, to present witnesses, to cross-examine witnesses who appear at the hearing and to present information by proffer or otherwise. Testimony of the defendant given during the hearing shall not be admissible on the issue of guilt in any other judicial proceeding, but the testimony shall be admissible in proceedings related to the defendant’s subsequent failure to appear, proceedings related to any subsequent offenses committed during the defendant’s release, proceedings related to the defendant’s subsequent violation of any conditions of release, any subsequent perjury proceedings, and for the purpose of impeachment in any subsequent proceedings. The defendant shall have the right to be present at the hearing. The rules governing admissibility of evidence in criminal trials shall not apply to the presentation and consideration of information at the hearing. The return of an indictment shall establish probable cause to believe that the defendant committed any offense alleged therein. Where there is no indictment at the point of the detention hearing, the prosecutor shall establish probable cause that the defendant committed the predicate offense.

(3) A hearing may be reopened at any time before trial if the court finds that information exists that was not known by the prosecutor or defendant at the time of

the hearing and that information has a material bearing on the issue of whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, or that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.

(4) Presumption of detention. When a motion for pretrial detention is filed pursuant to paragraph (a), there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the defendant shall be detained pending trial because no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary condition or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, and that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process, if the court finds probable cause that the defendant: (i) committed murder pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3; or (ii) committed any crime for which the defendant would be subject to an ordinary or extended term of life imprisonment.

(5) Presumption of release. Except when a presumption of detention is required pursuant to paragraph (b)(4), when a motion for pretrial detention is filed pursuant to paragraph (a), there shall be a rebuttable presumption that some amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions of pretrial release or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, and that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.

The standard of proof for the rebuttal of the presumption of pretrial release shall be by clear and convincing evidence. The court may consider as prima facie evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption of release a recommendation by the Pretrial Services Program established pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:162-25 that the defendant’s release is not recommended (i.e., a determination that “release not recommended or if released, maximum conditions”). Although such recommendation by the Pretrial Services Program may constitute sufficient evidence upon which the court may order pretrial detention, nothing herein shall preclude the court from considering other relevant information presented by the prosecutor or the defendant in determining whether no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary bail conditions of pretrial release or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, and that the defendant will not obstruct the criminal justice process.

(c) Pretrial Detention Order. If the court determines that pretrial detention is necessary it shall issue an order containing written findings of fact and a written statement of reasons for the detention. That order shall also direct that the defendant be afforded reasonable opportunity for private consultation with counsel.

(d) Temporary Release Order. The court may issue an order temporarily releasing the defendant, subject to conditions, to the extent that the court determines the release is necessary for the preparation of a defendant’s defense or for another compelling reason.

(e) Interlocutory Order from Appellate Division. Nothing in this Rule shall be deemed to preclude the State’s right to seek an interlocutory order from the Appellate Division within 48 hours.