One of the most important choices voters will make Nov. 4 is on the public question asking if the state’s constitution should be amended to empower courts to deny bail to dangerous offenders. Amending New Jersey’s constitution should not be taken lightly, but this time it is certainly justified.
Currently, in New Jersey, all persons charged with a crime are entitled to be released on bail, regardless of their past record or the threat he or she poses to society.
Too frequently, this system has led to a predictable cycle of more crime, more violence and more heartache for New Jersey families. In November, the public will have the power to put an end to the crime sprees committed by individuals who neither fear the law nor respect the right of people to live in peace.
I first proposed this initiative in the Legislature in 2012 and, after having overcome several hurdles to get legislative approval, it is now up to the voters to decide.
When bail reform legislation recently passed through both houses, not a single vote was cast against it. Advocacy groups representing different community organizations, law enforcement and religious affiliations also recognize the need for bail reform.
In March, a committee appointed by the state’s chief justice, Stuart Rabner, recommended that courts focus on the safety of the community — and not access to bail money — when deciding who goes free and who remains locked up. Currently, judges can only take into consideration the nature of the crime and whether the bail that’s set ensures that the defendant appears in court.
If approved by voters, New Jersey’s law will be similar to federal law. A judge would have the authority to deny pretrial release if it is determined the offender would be a threat to the safety of another person or the community, would not appear in court for his or her hearing, or would obstruct the criminal justice process.
Accounts of violent acts committed by accused individuals free on bail are horrifying.
A man who was granted bail in April 2013 was arrested in July 2014 and charged with home invasion and robbery in Trenton. The accused now faces five counts of first-degree robbery, four counts of fourth-degree aggravated assault, second-degree burglary and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Amazingly, he was ultimately granted bail, despite the danger he clearly poses while awaiting justice.
In another shocking incident, a funeral was interrupted by gunfire by four shooters, one of whom had known gang affiliations and had been released on bail.
Judges must be allowed to keep dangerous individuals off of the street and protect our communities until the offender’s guilt or innocence is determined. Defendants have a right to due process, but society is entitled to be protected from those who are considered a threat to their right to live in peace and without fear. Amending the constitution gives judges the legal framework to deny bail if it puts that right at risk.
One of the best choices voters can make Nov. 4 is saying “Yes” to reforming New Jersey’s bail system.
Donna Simon (R-Somerset) represents the 16th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly.