Chris Christie’s bail reform law has failed New Jersey, now Republicans are looking to fix it

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LAKEWOOD, NJ – Let’s face it. Bail reform isn’t working. New Jerseyans watch the news daily only to see violent crimes being perpetrated against society by violent repeat criminals who oftentimes commit new crimes hours or days after getting released under the state’s critically flawed bail reform act.

Bail reform was introduced in New Jersey as a ballot referendum in New Jersey, championed by then-governor Chris Christie, an avid supporter of bail reform, and repeatedly attacked those who said it will never work. Current Governor Phil Murphy has also championed the Christie-era law, in June of 2020, signing a set of additional criminal justice reforms into law to compliment bail reform for racial equity.

“I’ve been clear that New Jersey will be as aggressive as any state in the nation in our efforts to reform a criminal justice system that has largely failed our Black and Brown communities for far too long,” said Governor Murphy. “Among other important changes, these measures promote a greater degree of professionalism in law enforcement hiring practices and ensure that young people and formerly incarcerated individuals who are re-entering society are provided with a meaningful chance to reach their full potential.” The Governor signed the following bills into law:

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In response to concerns that New Jersey’s criminal justice reform efforts have gone too far and jeopardizes public safety, Senator Robert Singer will introduce legislation giving courts greater discretion to determine if and under what conditions defendants accused of violent crimes should be released on bail.

Christie called bail reform opponents propagandists and conspiracy theorists. Ocean County State Senator Robert Singer said enough is enough and wants to restore sanity to the criminal justice system in New Jersey.

“Like other states, New Jersey rushed to implement criminal justice reforms that let most defendants remain free while awaiting trial,” said Singer (R-30). “Although the reforms were well-intentioned, we’ve seen cases around the nation where people accused of violent acts have been set free only to commit horrific new crimes. If we don’t restore some sanity to our law, it’s only a matter of time before that happens in New Jersey with tragic consequences.”

Related: Check out SNN’s full Bail Reform coverage here.

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In a well-publicized attack before Thanksgiving in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a man with a long criminal history drove his SUV through a parade at high speeds killing six people and injuring more than 60. He had been released from jail days earlier after being arrested for physically assaulting his girlfriend and attempting to run her over with the same SUV.

Singer’s new legislation would prevent a similar occurrence in New Jersey by clarifying the court’s ability to impose any combination of monetary bail and non-monetary conditions which would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court, protect the safety of any other person or the community, or prevent the person from obstructing the criminal justice process.

Additionally, the bill would establish a rebuttable presumption that persons charged with certain violent crimes be detained prior to trial.

Some of the crimes that may require pretrial detention include: murder; aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter; vehicular homicide; aggravated assault; disarming a law enforcement officer; kidnapping; aggravated sexual assault; certain sexual assaults; robbery; carjacking;  aggravated arson;  burglary;  extortion; terrorism; and firearms trafficking.

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A more comprehensive list is included in the bill.

“What happened in Waukesha could happen here, all because the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of keeping our jails empty,” added Singer. “There’s mounting proof that the revolving door that lets violent criminals out of detention and onto our streets needs to be locked.”

In order for Singe’s effort to succeed, he needs to rally moderate Democrats in Trenton to stand with him, but in a hyperpartisan environment, that could be a tough sell, especially as Congressional midterms come around in 2022. Will Democrat legislators go against their mostly progressive congressional candidates’ platforms that are more in line with defunding police than they are with keeping criminals locked behind bars for their crimes?