The New Jersey judicial system allows the incarceration of criminal defendants before a trial takes place. Whether a criminal defendant must remain incarcerated throughout the duration of the criminal proceedings depends on the outcome of the defendant’s detention hearing.
Under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, all persons shall not be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” This fundamental right ensures a person’s right to liberty is not stripped away before they can fully address the pending criminal charges against them. The detention hearing is one of the first steps in the due process framework.
What is a New Jersey Detention Hearing?
Before explaining the definition of a pretrial detention hearing, it is vital to understand the purpose of pretrial detention. Pretrial detention occurs when a person accused of criminal wrongdoing is held by law enforcement before a trial. During pretrial detention, a criminal defendant remains incarcerated until the commencement of their criminal trial, the local prosecuting authority drops the underlying criminal charges, or the defendant enters a guilty plea.
Pretrial detention is not a requirement in every criminal matter. The duration of pretrial detention depends on the outcome of the pretrial hearing. The pretrial hearing allows both the local prosecutor and the criminal defendant an opportunity to argue whether the defendant may be released during the course of criminal proceedings. The judge conducts a hearing after both sides submit motions arguing their respective positions, after which the judge presiding over the hearing renders a decision once both sides engage in oral arguments before the court.
History of Pretrial Detention in New Jersey
Historically, all pretrial detention hearings encompassed the judge’s decision to issue a cash bail required to be paid by the defendant for release. Cash bail is the exchange of money for the temporary release of a criminal defendant during pretrial legal proceedings. Depending on the local rules of the jurisdiction and state law, defendants could post bail by issuing a bond of 10% of the bail cost.
However, this process changed in 2017 with the enactment of the New Jersey Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, which was approved by the legislature in 2014. Under the law, a judge may no longer use their own judicial discretion to determine whether to issue bail in a criminal case. Instead, the presiding judge must utilize a risk assessment regime taking into account various factors of the defendant’s criminal case. Further, the procedure for processing a criminal charge, whether through a summons after being detained by law enforcement for suspicion of criminal activity or being arrested via a court-issued warrant, also dramatically changed.
What Happens Prior to a New Jersey Detention Hearing?
A person must first be arrested on specific charges to be eligible for a pretrial hearing. There are two ways a person can be charged with an offense, which depends on the circumstances that led to the defendant being arrested and apprehended. New Jersey only has Superior court offenses and municipal court offenses – no felonies.
Complaint-Summons & Complaint-Warrant
When a complaint-warrant (“CDR-2”) is issued, upon the detainment of the criminal suspect, the suspect must be taken to the local county to be held for up to 48 hours until the suspect is charged and arraigned (a call made by the court for a criminal suspect to plead their innocence or guilt in a criminal case). Before the 48 hours conclude, law enforcement officials must prepare a motion to the presiding court to determine the conditions for pretrial release via a preliminary Public Safety Assessment (“PSA”).
Only certain types of charges must be filed as a complaint warrant. All other cases can be charged as complaint-summons, which do not require the PSA and must allow the defendant to be released. The types of cases that must be charged on warrants include the following:
- Aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter
- Aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault
- Attempt to commit any of the above-listed crimes
Other cases that are typically charged as on a warrant but can be charged as a summons with judicial approval include:
- Possession or use of a firearm.
- Vehicular homicide.
- Aggravated assault.
- Disarming a police officer.
- Aggravated arson.
- Manufacturing or distribution of booby traps.
- Drug-induced deaths with a finding of strict liability.
- Production or possession of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
- Firearms trafficking.
- Engaging in or exhibiting prohibited sexual acts with a child.
- Simple Assault.
Conducting a Public Safety Risk Assessment (PSA)
Once in custody, a defendant charged with a complaint warrant must undergo a PSA by pretrial services under the supervision of local law enforcement and prosecutors. The PSA includes an evaluation to determine a criminal defendant’s risk to the general public upon release. The significant risk assessment factors are discussed below.
Age of the Arrestee
A defendant’s age is required for all risk assessments. Pretrial services account for the following age categories, including:
- Whether the defendant is 20 years old or younger.
- Whether the defendant is between the ages of 21 through 22.
- Whether the defendant is 23 or older.
Violent Nature of the Current Offense
The violent nature of the current offense is used in the PSA. Typically, a crime is considered violent if the accused attempted to cause or was shown to cause physical injury to one or more persons. Criminal conduct categorized as reckless or negligent is not considered violent unless the defendant’s actions led to homicide. Lastly, instances where the accused issued threats, intimidation, or harassment are not regarded as violent for the purposes of conducting a PSA. This analysis is also applied to prior violent convictions in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Charges Pending During Alleged Offense
A pending charge is a charge that exists at the time the alleged offense was committed by the defendant. The pending charge can be one of the following:
- A charge is pending before the grand jury.
- A charge where the defendant has failed to appear for an awaiting trial or sentencing.
- A charge with a deferred status, which can include a conditional discharge of the suspect or dismissal of the charges, or the defendant is currently in a pretrial intervention program.
Any Prior Disorderly Persons Convictions
Disorderly persons offenses are outlined in the New Jersey Criminal Code. In this case, a conviction can include entering a guilty plea for the charge or being convicted at trial. Out-of-state convictions also fall under the disorderly persons conviction factor, but New Jersey recognizes those types of charges as misdemeanors.
Prior Criminal Felonies or Other Convictions
Another factor considered in the PSA is prior Superior court charges. This factor encompasses all prior convictions, regardless of degree. Again, this includes any guilty plea or finding of guilty by a jury. Charges under deferred status at the time of the evaluation are not generally considered.
Prior Failure to Appear for Pretrial Hearing
This evaluation factor includes any prior charges where the criminal defendant was arrested but not sentenced and failed to appear for a court-issued appearance. Further, the presiding court must have also issued a Federal Transit Authority (FTA) directed toward the unlawful travel of the defendant or issued a bench warrant for law enforcement to detain the defendant.
Prior Sentenced to Incarceration
This factor includes any incarceration of the defendant where the defendant was incarcerated for 14 days or more. This factor does not include instances where a court suspends the sentence of incarceration imposed instead of fines and court costs. This factor is considered for a 14-day incarceration period and one of the following circumstances:
- The defendant was convicted of a Superior court offense or disorderly person’s offense.
- The defendant’s incarceration can be counted as credit for “time served.”
- The defendant’s sentence was a part of one sentence and not a combination of multiple lesser offenses.
What Happens During a New Jersey Detention Hearing?
As stated above, the pretrial detention hearing must be conducted within 48 hours of the accused detainment for complaint-warrant cases. Once the PSA has been performed, the accused person will be taken before a judge to determine whether the person should be issued bail or the person should be held on pretrial detainment.
Healing Motions – Pretrial Detention and Special Release Conditions
During the hearing, the prosecuting authority can submit a motion to the court requesting pretrial detention based on the recommendation made by pretrial services using the PSA results and additional factors weighed by the judge, including the evidence presented at the hearing, prior history, and characteristics of the defendant, risks associated with the defendant’s potential ability to obstruct ongoing investigations and proceedings.
Otherwise, the prosecutor can forgo an argument for pretrial detention but motion to the court to tack on special conditions to the defendant’s release. Pretrial detention results in the defendant’s incarceration for the remainder of the criminal case. However, if the prosecutor requests special conditions, the court can grant the motion by adding one more of the following conditions per the defendant’s release. These conditions can include:
- Conditions to refrain from committing other criminal acts.
- Restraining orders to refrain from contacting victims, witnesses, and other offenders.
- Monitoring for drug and alcohol use.
- Participation in the local jurisdiction’s electronic monitoring or house arrest program.
What to Expect During the Hearing
During the hearing, the defendant is brought before the presiding judge to determine whether pretrial detention is appropriate, whether the defendant can be released, and whether to impose special release conditions.
Under New Jersey law, defendants are presumed to be eligible for release. However, under certain circumstances, the presumption of release can be overruled if the defendant’s underlying criminal charge involves murder or the defendant’s potential punishment can cause extended or life imprisonment.
For non-murder or extended/life imprisonment cases, the prosecution needs to show clear and convincing evidence (more likely than not) that no amount of release conditions is reasonable to ensure the defendant’s attendance during criminal proceedings, the public’s safety during the defendant’s release, or defendant’s ability to obstruct the case. Once both the prosecution argues their case and the defense is provided an opportunity to respond, the presiding judge will render their opinion.
What Happens After a New Jersey Detention Hearing?
Essentially, a New Jersey pretrial detention hearing ends with one of two outcomes: the defendant is remanded to custody for pretrial detention, or the defendant is released with special conditions. During pretrial detention, the defendant remains in custody throughout the legal proceedings.
However, if the defendant is allowed to be released on special conditions, the defendant must abide by the special conditions attached to their release. If law enforcement, the prosecution, or the presiding judge are made aware of any special condition release violations, the defendant can be summoned to a hearing to determine the violation. The prosecution must provide the court with clear and convincing evidence that special release conditions have been violated.
If the judge determines a violation has occurred, the defendant may be remanded back to custody. Certain offenses may not be considered violations based on the parameters of the special condition order. This can include certain traffic offenses and other lesser violations. Lastly, certain special condition violations may result in the defendant being charged with separate offenses.
New Jersey Detention Hearing for Juvenile Cases
Like adults, juvenile criminal defendants are eligible for pretrial detention under certain circumstances. Specifically, pretrial detention can be utilized once it is clear that a juvenile will likely not abide by special conditions attached to a release. Pretrial detention for juveniles is often imposed when it is clear that the juvenile defendant will have issues attending required court hearings.
Juvenile defendants are eligible for a review of any pretrial detention rulings. Within 14 days, the presiding judge must hold another hearing to review the circumstances of the juvenile’s case and review the initial pretrial detention ruling. If the judge concludes the juvenile must remain in custody, then the judge must hold hearings within 21-day intervals to determine the validity of pretrial detention until the case concludes.
Contact Us For Help Today
Jenna Casper Bloom will treat you as the person you are, not the crime you have been charged with. If you or a loved one has recently been accused of a crime and are facing a New Jersey detention hearing, contact her today for a free consultation.