Jersey City, New Jersey – New Jersey is one of the states that recently recognized the need for Criminal Justice Reform and made massive changes in an attempt to better administer justice. Perhaps the most significant change was the virtual abolition of monetary bail. Instead of posting an amount of money in exchange for release from detention prior to trial, New Jersey now has Pre-Trial Release with conditions or pre-trial detention. Posting money in exchange for release is only available in extremely rare situations.
The process works as follows: When a person is charged with a crime in a circumstance requiring an arrest, most frequently first and second degree crimes and all domestic violence offenses, that person is taken to the county jail where staff from the court will interview the person and use a logarithm incorporating factors such as age, nature of offense, and prior criminal history to determine if the arrestee is likely a danger to the community or a flight risk. Those two categories are rated on a scale from one to six, with one being the least likely. When the person sees a judge for arraignment, which is supposed to occur with 24 hours in most cases, a judge will decide whether the person should be released with conditions (such as telephone check in, in person check in, house arrest, gps monitoring, and no contact with the victim) or the person should be detained.
The purpose is to allow as many defendants as possible to assist in their own defense and continue their lives mostly normally by working, tending to their families and communicating with their attorneys more easily.
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided in State v. McCray and State v. Gabourel, that when no contact with the victim is one of the conditions of pre-trial release, a violation of this condition cannot be the basis of a new criminal contempt charge for violating a judicial order. This is an important decision for criminal defendants in New Jersey, because such violations are quite common—sometimes for malicious reasons, but sometimes for innocuous reasons or due to accidental circumstances. While a defendant’s contact with a victim despite a no contact order is still problematic because it can result in revocation of pre-trial release or an increase in pre-trial monitoring conditions, this decision means such violations cannot result in new criminal charges for contempt of court. Of course, if the violation forms the basis of a new independent charge, such as assault, harassment, stalking or something else, those charges are not precluded.
While all person on pre-trial release are encouraged to completely abide by the terms of release, such uniform compliance is not possible. At least with this decision the State cannot pile on new criminal charges for otherwise non-criminal behavior.