Gov. Chris Christie is seeking a constitutional amendment that would authorize New Jersey judges to deny bail to dangerous offenders. The change would alter the existing bail framework in the state and adopt a system similar to that used by the federal courts.
Under existing New Jersey law, judges are not allowed to deny bail under any circumstances. This means that they must assign bail to all defendants, including those with a history of violence or repeat offenses.
“Revising our bail procedures and allowing judges to consider certain factors, such as the dangerousness of the offender to the community before being released back into society, is just a simple common sense reform that is long overdue in this state,” Christie said.
The Federal Bail System
Under the Bail Reform Act of 1984, federal judges can deny bail if “no condition will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant and the safety of the community.” While the Act requires judges to consider a number of factors when determining bail, certain offenses presume a defendant is dangerous. They include the following: crimes of violence, crimes where the penalty is death or life imprisonment, drug offenses where the penalty is 10 years or more in prison, and felonies involving repeat offenders.
How Is the New Jersey Constitution Amended?
While Christie’s plan may garner support from lawmakers and the public, amending the state’s constitution is not an easy task. A proposed amendment requires either a three-fifths vote of the total membership in both the State Senate and the State Assembly in one legislative year or a majority vote in both the General Assembly and Senate in two successive years. The amendment is then placed on the ballot for the next general election and must be approved by voters.
If the measure passes, the New Jersey Legislature would then draft a outlining what factors judges could consider when determining if a defendant is eligible for bail. In doing so, lawmakers would likely look to the federal standard discussed above.