ACLU-NJ Praises Federal Ruling Protecting Bail Reform From Challenge by Bail Bond Industry

September 21, 2017

Suit by insurance industry sought to force NJ to use monetary bail, saying the ability to buy one’s way out of jail is a constitutional right

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauds today’s federal court decision denying a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by an insurance company that serves the bail bond industry, which aimed to overturn New Jersey’s landmark Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) that went into effect in January.

The class-action case, Brittan B. Holland, et al. v. Kelly Rosen, et al., sought to force New Jersey judges to consider monetary bail and claimed that the ability to buy one’s way out of jail and out of conditions of pretrial release was a constitutional right. The plaintiffs included Lexington National Insurance Corp., a Florida company based in Maryland that does business with the bail-bond industry. The groups have worked to upend the successful New Jersey reforms and prevent other jurisdictions from following in the state’s footsteps.

Federal District Judge Jerome B. Simandle – writing that the court did not find its considerations to be a close call – denied Plaintiffs’ request to halt New Jersey’s new pretrial justice system, which creates a presumption of release for almost all defendants and which seeks to manage risk through the use of non-monetary conditions, using money bail as a last resort. The court found that “Plaintiffs have not made a substantial showing of possibility of success nor of irreparable harm stemming from unconstitutional conduct under the CJRA, either on the face of the statute or as applied.”

“This is a welcome decision for anyone in our state who values fairness over fortune,” said Alexander Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU-NJ. “No system of pretrial release and detention, including this one, is perfect, but the last thing we need is to heed the bail industry’s desperate call to increase reliance on money bail.”

The CJRA took effect in January, largely doing away with money bail in favor of a risk-based assessment system. Since its inception, New Jersey’s pretrial jail population has fallen more than 15 percent.

The ACLU-NJ, joined by the National ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, Latino Action Network and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) New Jersey State Conference, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief before the court. Shalom, a member of the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice that helped set the stage for the CJRA, also presented oral arguments before the court.

Holland, accused of second-degree aggravated assault for his role in an April bar fight, was released subject to home detention and electronic monitoring. His release conditions were based on a risk-assessment protocol implemented by CJRA.

“There is an undeniably strong public interest in maintaining such a reform, provided that it is constitutional,” Judge Simandle wrote. “On the other hand, the shortcomings of a system that elevated monetary bail as the principal (or only) condition of pretrial release were well-documented.”

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