It's been just over a year since New Jersey Bail Reform and Speed Trial Act took effect, and several other states are following New Jersey's lead in eliminating bail for those accused of certain crimes. While you may never expect to be arrested, having an understanding of the process may prove helpful in the event that you or a loved one has a run-in with the law.
Before the passing of the bail reform law, it was not unusual for someone to spend close to a year behind bars just waiting for trial. In fact, one study showed that over 50 percent of those in the county jails across the country have not been convicted of any crime but are simply waiting for their trial. They remain in jail because they can't afford to post bail.
Goodbye to bail
If you know you are in a situation where posting bail would be financially devastating, you may be relieved to see how the justice system is moving from money-based to risk-based decision making. Instead of holding you for bail, the court will now assess the risk that you will not return for your trial. The risk assessment tool considers the following factors:
- How old you are when the crime allegedly occurred
- Whether the charges against you include violent acts
- Any past convictions
- Any past failures to show up for court hearings or trials
- Any other charges pending against you
Based on these factors, and not weighing your race or ethnicity, a judge will decide whether to hold you in jail or release you on your own recognizance. From the earliest moments of this process, having experienced legal assistance will be crucial. If the prosecutor argues for your incarceration, you will certainly want an advocate to defend your freedom.
If the court holds you until your trial, the clock begins ticking for prosecutors. They will have 90 days to indict you, and your trial must start within 180 days. This stipulation in the law directly addresses the negative impact on your life that you may face while sitting in jail waiting for trial. Like many whom the courts hold over for trial, you may lose your job and your home during a lengthy incarceration. You may even lose custody of your children and the bond of your family.
A strong legal advocate can help protect your rights and ensure authorities followed all procedures during your arrest and detainment. Seeking assistance as soon as possible can allow your attorney to begin building a strong defense for you.