NJ High Court Holds Prosecutors Must Provide More Evidence During Bail Hearing

What evidence must prosecutors present to detain a defendant on bail?

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued an important ruling concerning the state’s new bail system.  In a 5-2 ruling, the high court upheld a lower court’s decision ordering prosecutors to provide witness statements and other evidence against a defendant accused of murder during the preliminary hearing.  The case was one of several that arose after New Jersey’s considerable criminal justice overhaul which took place in January.  Our NJ criminal defense lawyers at Sitzler & Sitzler discuss this important case and what it could mean for bail hearings across the state. 

NJ’s Bail Reform

New Jersey took monumental steps towards reforming the traditional bail system by passing the Bail Reform and Speed Trial Act.  The law essentially eliminates bail for minor crimes.  Under the new law, courts in New Jersey will use a risk assessment tool to decide whether or not a defendant should be released prior to trial, rather than automatically assigning a cash bail.  The assessment will consider the age of the defendant, past convictions or failures to appear in court, whether the offense was violent, and any other pending charges. 

Under the new system, the prosecutor must make a request to detain the defendant.  A pre-trial detention hearing is conducted, and the defense is entitled to discovery if the prosecutor moves for detention.  The question that arose in the lower courts is just how much evidence the defense can request, and what must the prosecution release.  Now, the high court has spoken—and the ruling will favor defendants in the state. 

Prosecutors in NJ must release critical evidence that they have in order to justify their request for detention.  Defense attorneys support the decision as it sets the bar high for detention of their clients and allows for early investigations once the defense knows what evidence prosecutors intend to rely on.  Prosecutors believe the new ruling will turn preliminary hearings into mini-trials and could jeopardize witness safety.  Time will tell how the new ruling plays out, but for now defendants should ensure their bail rights are enforced with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney