Pretrial Justice: What It Looks Like in NJ

The ACLU-NJ, along with many partners, has been intimately involved in efforts to transform New Jersey’s pretrial justice system.

We sat on the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, which issued this report (PDF).

We fought in the Legislature for a strong statute (PDF).

We worked to achieve Court Rules that were more protective of individual rights (PDF).

We have helped to train the lawyers (PDF) who will fight on the front lines of pretrial justice reform.

Others are seeking to undo the progress (PDF) we’ve made and we fought to prevent that.

And we’re fighting in courts to ensure that the processes are fair:

In State v. Robinson (PDF) we successfully (PDF) argued that if the State tells the Judge that it possesses statements that implicate the defendant, it must provide the defendant those statements before a detention hearing. The State appealed and we argued the cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In State v. Gaines (PDF) and State v. Ingram (PDF) we participated as a friend of the court arguing that in a detention hearing the State cannot simply provide an affidavit – which cannot be cross examined — explaining some of the circumstances of the arrest; instead, it must call a live witness with some knowledge of the case. Those cases are scheduled for argument on February 14th. The Appellate Division ruled against (PDF) our position, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, which will be argued in May.

In State v. Fanniel we participated as a friend of the court arguing that where a risk assessment suggests release, a judge cannot override that recommendation based on only a hunch. In order to justify deviating from the release recommendation, the judge should be required to point to factors that were not sufficiently accounted for in the risk assessment. Before that case was argued, the State offered the defendant probation and he was released from jail. While the appeals court never heard the case, it revealed the folly with the over use of detention: the State claimed the defendant was too dangerous to release until the time it released him from jail.

In State v. C.W. (PDF) we participated as a friend of the court explaining the reasons why a judge could justify keeping a defendant on home detention rather than in jail. We contended that evidence existed explaining how communities could be kept safe despite the fact that the defendant was not jailed. The court ordered (PDF) the lower to court to reconsider its decision to release the defendant.

In State v. Tinsley, (PDF) we argued as a friend of the court that the presumption of detention could be overcome in rare cases. In that case, the defendant was charged with killing her husband. Even the State acknowleged that she only struck her abusive husband after he tried to smother her with a pillow.

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