Prosecutors must turn over facts to justify holding someone pretrial, ACLU-NJ argues at NJ Supreme Court

TRENTON – The ACLU of New Jersey argued at the New Jersey Supreme Court for due process in detention hearings after the state deprived a man of the right to fact-based discovery before his detention. The case, State v. Habeeb Robinson (PDF), concerns a defendant’s right to see materials that the state had used as justification to detain him.

Today’s argument was the first heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court concerning the state’s pioneering pretrial justice reform law, which shifted New Jersey to a system of risk-based bail and effectuated speedy trial protections in the New Jersey Constitution.

“The decision to take away someone’s freedom is not something to take lightly, especially before an adjudication of guilt, and any decision to detain someone pretrial must be made with significant due process,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Both court rules and the basic conceptions of fairness call for prosecutors seeking pretrial detention to produce all reports related to that decision, and the prosecution here did not produce what was legally required.”

The trial court and appeals court both ruled that Robinson was entitled to view the factual basis of the state’s decision to apply for his detention. Contrary to the rules of the bail reform law, the state said an affidavit saying two eyewitnesses saw the alleged offense fulfilled its obligations. Both the trial court and appellate division required the state to produce two eyewitness statements, the photo array, and surveillance video, in addition to the affidavit.

The appellate ruling in Robinson’s case, issued Feb. 8, was the first Appellate Decision in New Jersey addressing the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act. The Appellate Court made clear that defendants must be provided meaningful discovery in detention hearings. The ACLU-NJ asked the Supreme Court to affirm this finding today.

Under the previous system, a large number of pretrial defendants remained in jail before trial because of their inability to pay relatively low bail amounts. In November 2014, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment providing all defendants with the right to pretrial release, but authorizing pretrial detention under certain limited circumstances. The new system went into effect on January 1, 2017.

The state has adopted a risk-based approach to pretrial release that is unrelated to a defendant’s ability to pay, unlike the previous bail-based pretrial system. Defendants are considered low-risk if they are unlikely to flee or commit another offense.

Read the Appellate Division’s opinion opinion (PDF) and the ACLU-NJ’s brief (PDF).