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New Jersey Bail Reform Is Not What New Jersey Voted for in 2014

In November of 2014, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly supported an election ballot referendum that allowed the state to amend the constitution to allow for a more comprehensive pretrial system for criminal justice cases.

What those New Jersey voters received in January was nothing more than a bait and switch, because the current state of bail reform in the Garden State does not remotely resemble the 2014 referendum question.

The ballot question heading read, “Constitutional amendment to allow a court to order pretrial detention of a person in a criminal case.”

The question posed to voters read as follows:

Do you approve amending the Constitution to allow a court to order pretrial detention of a person in a criminal case? This would change the current constitutional right to bail. The change to the Constitution would mean that a court could order that a person remain in jail prior to trial, even without a chance for the person to post bail, in some situations. The amendment also removes language in the Constitution about bail eligibility for death penalty cases. The death penalty no longer exists in New Jersey.

Just in case voters were not sure about what this meant, it came with an interpretive statement which read:

The Constitution currently requires a court to grant bail to a jailed person in a criminal case before trial. If the person posts bail, the person is released from jail pending trial. The amendment would give a court the option of ordering a person to remain in jail in some situations. The court could order such detention based upon concerns that the person, if released: will not return to court; is a threat to the safety of another person or the community; or will obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process. The amendment authorizes the Legislature to pass laws concerning pretrial release and pretrial detention. The amendment would take effect on January 1, 2017 to allow any new laws to be enacted and their requirements to be established. The amendment would also remove language in the Constitution about bail eligibility for death penalty cases. The death penalty no longer exists in New Jersey. Lt. Governor Kimberly M. Guadagno, Secretary of State.

Instead, New Jersey got a system that puts violent criminal offenders, sex offenders and drug dealers back on the streets hours after their arrest…without bail.

The failure of the new bail reform system was highlighted this week in Ocean County when Judge Wendel E. Daniels released a man who was caught not once, but twice sexually assaulting children.  At least once as a minor and last week as an adult.  According to the local police chief in the perp’s town, Richard Buzby, the man poses a serious threat to children.  Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato agreed.

Judge Daniels let the man return home with a gps monitoring device, even though he had lured his victims from the comfort of his home on the internet and at school bus stops, according to sources close to the matter who wished to remain anonymous.

Despite Coronato’s office appealing the matter all the way up to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Daniels released him back into the community.

Why? Because he only scored 1.2 on a new computer generated inmate grading system.  According to that score, the man poses no flight risk to the court system.

Law enforcement officials in Ocean County and the man’s hometown of Little Egg Harbor were left frightened and handcuffed…unable to even alert the neighborhood residents of the man’s release or charges because of further red tape in the Megan’s Law processing procedures.  Unable to to do anything but hope he doesn’t wander out of his house and assault a third child, Buzby made an unconventional plea to residents on Facebook to watch their children.

As if things couldn’t appear worse than they already are with the Ocean County case, they are.

This week, neighbors and friends of a man who viciously assaulted his girlfriend, smashing her head through a television set,  said he was released hours later, again with no bail, through the new and improved revolving door of the New Jersey criminal justice system, courtesy of the state’s legislators, court system and signed by Governor Chris Christie.

Also this week, a drug dealer in Ocean County was caught with an extremely large amount of heroin, also released back into the community with no bail.

As if things couldn’t appear worse than that, they are.

Police now are worried that criminals may already be working the system that now gives them a clear cut advantage over law enforcement.  Gone is the leverage initial investigating officers had over suspected drug dealers.    We’ve all seen it in the movies, cops playing good cop, working together to get a perp to divulge more details of the crime and of his greater operation or organization…with deals of lighter charges…talking to the judge on their behalf… if they cooperated and negotiated… perhaps give up more names in a criminal enterprises.

Gone.  Why would somebody who knows they will rate low on the new computerized criminal scorecard worry what Joe Cop is threatening in the interrogation briefing when he knows he’s a 1, maybe a 2 on the computer and will be home in time for Monday Night Football that evening?

As if things couldn’t get worse than that, they are.

Criminals aren’t as dumb as many think they are.  In fact, many are crafty and smart.  Police know that.  That’s why their job at is always a tough one.  Some police officers we spoke to now fear that the word is out on this new computerized rating system and suspect criminals will start using low-scoring mules to do their dirty work.

Why should a drug manufacturer risk his own freedom delivering a package from one distribution point to another distribution point?  If he’s high on the computer ratings system, he could be looking at an expensive bail posting to get out jail, which they always seem to have laying around.   Now, he can delegate those tasks to underlings or perhaps even recruit new help off the streets with lower computer scores.  It happens already with drug cartels smuggling drugs into America, exploiting women and children.

No police officers we spoke to this week would go on record and talk about how bail reform has handcuffed their ability to protect their communities.   Several expressed concerns over political backlash, since, “This one comes from the top.”

They all however agreed on two things. First, New Jersey’s bail reform system has broken down, just three weeks into the year in which it started and nobody is benefiting from it except the criminals and the court system.  Second, the system that was implemented on January 1st, bears little resemblance to the 2014 ballot referendum New Jersey voters approved.

In the Little Egg Harbor case, bail reform was just one problem.  The other problem was Megan’s Law.  The defendant is currently disputing the Megan’s Law tier he was assigned, a process that could take as long as six to eight months.  During that time, he is not registered as a sex offender, so by law, cannot be treated as one.

Another problem is that the state’s new ratings system does not factor a criminal’s juvenile record into the final score.  The courts can be advised of the record by the prosecutor’s office, but the computer rating system is blind to it.

The other problem is that the algorithm is geared towards flight risk and penalizes petty criminals more severely than first time violent offenders.

Drug addicts are harshly penalized by the computer grading system.   A drug addict who might have been picked up once or twice on CDS possession charges, maybe one or two shoplifting charges to support his habit and might have missed a few court cases because he was hungover in the morning or just too high to remember his court date will rate as a high flight risk.  He might a get a score of 4 or 5 out of 6, while an enraged boyfriend who never committed a crime smashes his girlfriend’s head through a television rates a 1 or 2, because the computer algorithm doesn’t see him as a flight risk.

If New Jersey doesn’t fix the mess it’s in, just one month into bail reform, jails will be clear of violent offenders and full of small time drug addicts, contrary to what the original intent of the referendum was.

New Jersey’s bail reform is a system that was developed by politically appointed administrators and politicians, managed on the front lines by the politically appointed judges who don’t have to answer to anyone.   New Jersey’s law enforcement community did not take part in or have a say in the constructing of the new laws and regulations they now have to deal with on a daily basis.

This afternoon, we were contacted by Peter McAleer, a communications officer for the New Jersey Administrative Office of Courts.   McAleer took offense to our earlier story on Thursday criticizing bail reform.   We advised McAleer that we would be open to talk to the state about this topic and provide the state with a platform for their agenda, but only from the top, through Governor Christie himself.

What can you do about New Jersey bail reform putting violent offenders, sex offenders and criminal back on our streets?  Call your local state assemblyman or senator and let them know how you feel.

You can get a full list here.

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