In a February 2012 press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed an amendment to the state’s constitution, which would give state court judges the ability to hold repeat violent offenders without bail before trial. The amendment would align New Jersey’s bail laws with the federal system. While the proposal acts as a nice political talking point, freedom and innocent people may suffer.
Presently, the New Jersey constitution secures a right to release on bail, except in capital (death penalty) cases “when the proof is evident or the presumption great.” New Jersey judges are banned from considering the accused person’s danger to the community when setting a bail amount. They may only consider the severity of the charged crime and the accused person’s risk of failing to appear for future hearings.
The proposal is certainly not sitting well with critics. Defense attorneys are rightfully up in arms over a new law that would violate their clients’ right to bail. They cite the fact that judges already have discretion to set high bail amounts to keep defendants in custody. Moreover, they assert that denying bail violates the American presumption of innocence.
The risks to freedom are great with Gov. Christie’s proposal. Consider the past case of a New Jersey man accused of sexual assault who stayed in custody for nearly two years while prosecutors claimed the DNA testing in his case was not complete. This continued despite the man’s requests for a speedy trial. After all that time in custody, the man was finally acquitted.
Gov. Christie’s proposal will go before the voters in November 2012. If approved, legislators will then draft the law with the details as to which crimes and how many prior convictions would put a person in the no-bail category. Hopefully, voters think this through before jumping the gun on Gov. Christie’s proposal.