By Amber Widgery
New Jersey voters will decide on Election Day whether courts should be allowed to deny pretrial release to the state's most dangerous offenders.
The constitutional amendment, Public Question 1, was referred to voters by the Legislature.
Currently in New Jersey, all pretrial defendants are bailable except for those accused of a capital offense. The state abolished capital punishment in 2007.
Even high-risk defendants must be released if they have the funds to post bail and can meet release conditions ordered by the court. The amendment also would authorize the Legislature to enact laws with regard to pretrial release or detention.
In August, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 946 to enact new pretrial policy. Most of the bill will take effect, however, only if Public Question 1 is adopted by the voters in November.
Should the voters approve the referendum, Senate Bill 946 provides for the creation of a statewide pretrial services organization, which would perform risk assessments on most defendants within 48 hours of commitment to jail, and would supervise some pretrial defendants. The bill also requires the pretrial services organization make a recommendation on the type of release that would be appropriate at a newly required bail hearing before the court.
Additionally, the bill amends speedy trial deadlines for defendants who are detained after a hearing. For defendants who are eligible for release after hearing, the bill requires that the court impose the least restrictive conditions that would reasonably ensure the defendant's appearance and the safety of others.
Whether or not the amendment is approved, Senate Bill 946 also allows the courts to revise and supplement fees to fund the statewide pretrial risk assessment and monitoring program and other court-related services.
New Jersey would become the 14th state to authorize the use of risk assessments to inform the pretrial release decision if Public Question 1 is approved.
Learn more about other areas of pretrial policy in New Jersey and other states by visiting NCSL’s Pretrial Policy Database. NCSL’s website also has more information and resources from a site visit on how risk-based pretrial release has been implemented in Denver. For more information on other ballot measures in New Jersey and other states visit NCSL’s Ballot Measures Database.
Amber Widgery is a research analyst in NCSL’s Criminal Justice program.