New Jersey courts are about to make a big change that stands to benefit poor or working-class residents who are accused of crimes: it's eliminating the money bail system in favor of a determination during a pretrial hearing by a judge about whether or not to grant bail. This step in the right direction toward protecting defendant's rights is something a handful of other states are also considering. If you're a resident of New Jersey, here's what you should know about why this change could help you and how it works.
The Money Bail System Unfairly Punishes The Poor
Being jailed on a criminal charge while you are still legally innocent and just waiting on your trial date isn't supposed to be the same as punishment after you're convicted—but ask anyone who has been there if they felt their incarceration was like a punishment or not. They'll probably tell you that it seemed punishing at the time—more so if they were actually innocent.
For many people, being accused of the crime might as well be the same as being convicted of one: the court systems in many major areas are backed up and defendants who can't afford to pay a cash bail to get out while they wait for their trial end up sitting behind bars, sometimes for months. Cash bail is the system most people are familiar with from news reports and television shows: a set dollar amount of bail is assigned based on the severity of the alleged crime and defendants who can afford to pay the whole amount to the court directly can do so and get released. The money acts as a surety that they won't skip town before trial and they get it back when they show up to trial.
Many of the poor and working-class citizens of the U.S., however, can't afford to give that whole dollar amount to the court to hold. Another option exists: using a bail bondsman. However, many bail bondsmen charge 10%-20% of the whole bail to use their services. That means someone with a $100,000 bail would have to come up with somewhere between $10,000-$20,000 actual cash that they can afford to pay to the bondsman, who will then guarantee the court the rest on their behalf. And that money doesn't get returned. For many people, just coming up with $1,000 they can afford to pay a bondsman is out of reach.
It's A National Problem With An Innovative Solution
New Jersey isn't the only state with the problem that leaves the poor sitting around, missing family events and losing jobs and apartments while they sit behind bars for no good reason. For example, a woman from Georgia spent a month in jail after police mistook dried sauce from SpaghettiOs on a spoon as residue from the drug meth. There have been many people who were forced into the position where pleading guilty might get them out of jail faster than if they maintained their innocence over relatively minor crimes.
Getting out of jail on bail while pending trial in New Jersey will no long rely on whether or not the defendant has a savings account big enough to at least buy the service of a bondsman. Instead, the court will use a computerized system that assigns a number equal to the statistical likelihood that the defendant will come back to trial and stay out of trouble until then. The number is based on a combo of factors, including his or her history. During a pretrial hearing, defense attorneys can still plead their client's case, as well. Then a judge will make the decision. If bail is granted, te defendant goes free until trial.
This will not only help protect the rights of the innocent but reduce prison overcrowding as well. For more information on what to do if you or a friend has been arrested for a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney, like Sam Douglas Young Attorney at Law or another one in your area.