If you are charged with a felony in New Jersey, you must contact a New Jersey criminal defense attorney at once to obtain the legal advice and defense representation that you will require.
Low-level misdemeanors in New Jersey have essentially been replaced with “disorderly persons” offenses that are not considered crimes or heard in criminal courts. What were previously the most serious misdemeanors are now considered low-level felonies.
But if you are charged with a felony, you may need a New Jersey defense lawyer’s help to get out of jail while you are waiting to appear in court. If you’ll keep reading, you will learn why some defendants awaiting trial in this state are released while others are held in custody.
You’ll also learn more about your rights and what steps to take if you are charged with a crime in New Jersey.
How Does Bail Reform Work in New Jersey?
Bail reform came to this state in 2017. Prior to that year, in most cases, a criminal defendant was detained or released based largely on that defendant’s ability to post bail. However, since 2017, cash bail has been for the most part eliminated in New Jersey.
The bail reforms are New Jersey’s response to the growing awareness nationally about the effect of pretrial detention on indigent defendants who are not able to post even small bail sums.
According to the New Jersey Courts website, the current “risk-based” system “is more objective, promotes public safety and is fairer to defendants because it is unrelated to their ability to pay monetary bail.”
How Does a Court Decide to Hold or Release a Defendant?
Instead of a bail system, in most cases, the court now decides to hold or release a defendant based on whether the court believes a defendant will:
- appear for trial
- pose a threat to the community
- attempt to obstruct justice
The system relies on a Public Safety Assessment (PSA), a list of nine risk factors used by judges to assess the risk of new criminal activity and the risk of a failure to appear. The PSA allows judges to make a sound and reasoned decision regarding a defendant’s release or detention.
When a Defendant Isn’t Detained, What Are the Court’s Options?
State law gives the courts forty-eight hours from the time of an arrest to decide whether to hold or release a criminal defendant. The majority of criminal defendants in New Jersey are now either released “ROR,” (released on their own recognizance), or released with conditions.
When conditions are imposed on a defendant’s pretrial release, a judge assigns the defendant to one of three pretrial monitoring levels:
- Pretrial Monitoring Level One: Defendants in this category are released, but they are required to report to the New Jersey Pretrial Services Unit once a month by telephone as a condition of remaining released.
- Pretrial Monitoring Level Two: Defendants in this category are released, but they are required to report to Pretrial Services biweekly, alternating between reporting-by-phone and in-person reporting, as a condition of remaining released.
- Pretrial Monitoring Level Three Plus: Defendants in this category are assigned to home detention and electronic monitoring. If a defendant gets too far away from home, Pretrial Services is informed that the conditions of release have been violated.
When Will You Need a Defense Lawyer’s Help?
A court may order a defendant to remain in custody only when a prosecutor offers “clear and convincing evidence” which persuades the court that the defendant cannot satisfy the conditions for release. So, instead of paying a cash bond, a defendant is now either detained or released.
That’s why a New Jersey defense attorney should accompany you if you have to appear at a pretrial detention hearing. A detention hearing is conducted only if a prosecutor has filed a “motion to detain” at or before your first court appearance.
If a judge decides at a pretrial detention hearing that you should remain in custody, you could linger in jail for as long as 180 days before your trial begins – or even longer, if either side or both sides need more time to prepare the case for trial.
At and After a Pretrial Detention Hearing
At a pretrial detention hearing, your New Jersey criminal defense lawyer will explain to the judge why you should be released while you are awaiting trial. Your defense lawyer will protect your rights and use every appropriate legal tool to win your release at your detention hearing.
After that hearing, your New Jersey criminal defense attorney will review the details of your case, examine the evidence against you, question the witnesses, and develop the defense strategy that will lead to the best possible resolution of the charge or charges against you.
If your attorney determines that you have been falsely accused or that your legal rights were violated, he or she will seek to have the charge against you reduced or dismissed. If the charge cannot be dismissed, and you are innocent, you should insist on your right to a trial by jury.
What Happens If Your Case Goes to Trial?
At trial, it’s the prosecutor’s job to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that is seldom an easy task. Your defense attorney will cast doubt on the prosecution’s case against you and will explain to the jurors why they should find you not guilty.
However, if the state’s evidence is overwhelming and a conviction is certain, instead of a trial, your defense lawyer may negotiate an acceptable plea agreement and seek reduced or alternative sentencing. In every case, the right lawyer will fight aggressively for the best possible outcome.
How Are Convictions Penalized?
Convicted criminal offenders in New Jersey are punished with jail and prison terms, probation, and fines. When it’s appropriate, the criminal courts can also order community service, drug or alcohol treatment, or the suspension of an offender’s driver’s license.
Criminal convictions also entail “extra-legal” penalties. A criminal conviction creates a criminal record and may make keeping your job – or finding a job – difficult or impossible.
If you’re not a U.S. citizen in New Jersey, a criminal conviction places you at risk for deportation. If you hold a professional license, a criminal conviction may lead to disciplinary action by your state professional licensing board.
Bail reform is good reform, but there are still people awaiting trial in New Jersey jails who’ve been convicted of nothing. Don’t become one of them. If you are charged with a crime, contact a New Jersey defense lawyer at once regarding your pretrial release and your criminal defense.