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Gov. Christie Proposes Eliminating Bail Rights for Some Accused Criminals

The notion that every criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty is one of the bedrock principles of the American justice system.

In New Jersey, this principle has long meant that every accused criminal has a right to be offered bail. Of course, in some cases, bail might be set at a level higher than the defendant can afford. Nonetheless, every person accused of a crime at least has the opportunity to raise enough money to be released from jail pending trial.

However, a new proposal from Gov. Chris Christie seeks to take this right away. In his State of the State Address last month, the Governor proposed eliminating the bail right for accused criminals with a history of violent offenses.

New Jersey Bail Procedures

Currently, the New Jersey state constitution gives every criminal defendant the right to post bail in lieu of being held in jail. Under state law, bail must be set within 12 hours after a criminal complaint is issued.

Bail isn’t designed to punish accused criminals. Rather, it is simply intended to ensure that defendants show up at their court appearances.

As such, the amount of bail required bears a direct relationship to defendants’ likelihood of returning to court to face the charges leveled against them. Defendants with strong ties to the community and little criminal history may be given low bail or even released on a promise to return. Conversely, defendants who would have an easy time leaving the state have their bail set at higher levels.

A defendant’s criminal history comes into play only insofar as to consider that the probability of a long prison sentence may make an accused criminal more likely to flee.

Proposal Changes Bail’s Purpose

Gov. Christie’s proposal would introduce a new element into the bail decision. It envisions bail not simply as a guarantor of a court appearance, but rather as a tool to protect public safety.

Although protecting the public is an important consideration, the governor’s proposal means that some defendants could be forced to spend many months in jail as punishment for crimes they did not commit.

There are also concerns that the governor’s proposal could make it harder for defendants to work with their Texas criminal defense lawyers.

Making the governor’s proposal into law will likely mean amending the state constitution. Hopefully, the legislative process will proceed fairly and with due concern towards the rights of the criminally accused.

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