New Jersey Pretrial Detention Amendment, Public Question No. 1 (2014)

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Public Question No. 1
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Type:Constitutional amendment
Referred by:Legislature
Topic:Criminal trials
Status:Approveda
2014 measures
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November 4
Public Question No. 1Approveda
Public Question No. 2Approveda
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The New Jersey Pretrial Detention Amendment, Public Question No. 1 was on the November 4, 2014 ballot in New Jersey as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved. The measure was designed to provide for pretrial detention of certain criminal defendants.[1]

Election results


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This ballot measure article has preliminary election results. Certified election results will be added as soon as they are made available by the state or county election office. The following totals are as of 96 percent of precincts reporting.

New Jersey Public Question No. 1
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 798,518 61.58%
No498,29238.42%

Election results via: Huffington Post

Text of measure

Ballot title

The amendment appeared on the ballot as follows:[2]

NJ SCR 128 2014 part 1.JPG

NJ SCR 128 2014 part 2.JPG[3]

Constitutional changes

See also: New Jersey Constitution, Article I, Paragraph 11

The measure altered Article I, Paragraph 11 of the New Jersey Constitution to read as follows, with the [bracketed] text being removed and the underlined text being added:

11. No person shall, after acquittal, be tried for the same offense. All persons shall, before conviction, be [bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses when the proof is evident or presumption great] eligible for pretrial release. Pretrial release may be denied to a person if the court finds that no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions of pretrial release, or combination of monetary bail and non-monetary conditions would reasonably assure the person’s appearance in court when required, or protect the safety of any other person or the community, or prevent the person from obstructing or attempting to obstruct the criminal justice process. It shall be lawful for the Legislature to establish by law procedures, terms, and conditions applicable to pretrial release and the denial thereof authorized under this provision.[3]


Background

State law at the time of this amendment's passing only allowed judges to deny bail to persons charged with capital offenses. However, New Jersey repealed the death penalty in 2007, meaning there were no capital offenses and it was, therefore, impossible to deny a prisoner bail. However, judges still had the option of setting very high bails to attempt to prevent the release of such prisoners. Gov. Chris Christie (R) had been advocating for such an amendment since 2012.[4] The League of Women Voters of New Jersey released a voter's guide, which included a background section on Public Question 1, which stated:[5]

Currently, the New Jersey Constitution states that all persons charged with a crime in New Jersey, except for those charged with capital offenses, are entitled to be released on bail, regardless of their past record or the threat he or she poses to society. 40% of the State's prison population are non-violent offenders with rights to bail, but lack the means to secure bail. They are incarcerated an average of 10 months before trial.

The new constitutional amendment would allow all persons, before conviction, to be eligible for pretrial release with or without posting bail, depending upon the decision of the court. A judge would have the authority to deny pretrial release if it is reasonable to determine that, if released, the offender would (1) be a threat to the safety of another person or the community, (2) would not appear in court for his or her hearing, and/or (3) obstruct the criminal justice process.

The new amendment would also make it lawful for the Legislature to establish procedures, terms, and conditions by law which are applicable to pretrial release and the denial thereof authorized under this provision. The amendment would take effect on January 1, 2017 to allow any new laws to be enacted and their requirements to be established. In addition, the amendment would remove language in the Constitution about bail eligibility for death penalty cases (capital offenses), since the death penalty no longer exists in New Jersey.[3]

—League of Women Voters of New Jersey

Support

Supporters

SCR 128 was primarily sponsored by Sen. Norcross in the New Jersey Senate. It was cosponsored by Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11).[6] The identical Assembly version was primarily sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-2), Assemblyman Timothy J. Eustace (D-38) and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-1).[7]

SCR 128 "Yes" votes

The following members of the New Jersey General Assembly voted in favor of placing Public Question No. 1 on the ballot.[6][8]

Note: A yes vote on SCR 128 merely referred the question to voters and did not necessarily mean these legislators approved of the stipulations laid out in Public Question No. 1.

Senate

Assembly

Arguments

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey released a voter's guide detailing support and opposition arguments for Public Question No. 1. The arguments in support of the measure included:[5]

Reasons to vote “YES”
  • The courts would be empowered to deny bail to obviously dangerous individuals, repeat offenders, or probable flight risks who might not appear for trial.
  • The current system is unfair–those with money can obtain pre-trial release and those without money go to jail until trial. This amendment would redress this disparity.
  • The legislature is granted the option to set conditions that would flesh out and specify the application of this amendment in practice.[3]

—League of Women Voters of New Jersey

Opposition

No members of the New Jersey General Assembly voted against referring this measure to the ballot. However, this does not necessarily mean that every legislator approves of the stipulations laid out in Public Question No. 1.[8][6]

Arguments

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey released a voter's guide detailing support and opposition arguments for Public Question No. 1. The arguments in opposition to the measure included:[5]

Reasons to vote “NO”
  • Unless and until the legislature sets conditions, this amendment places the decision about whether to grant pre-trial release into the hands of a judge, who may in some cases be biased, unfair, or prejudiced in making that determination.
  • Under current law, each person who is charged with a crime is considered bailable and is entitled to potential pre-trial release. This amendment would end that right.
  • The constitutional amendment does not stipulate that a defendant would have a speedy trial if a judge denies the defendant’s release prior to trial.[3]

—League of Women Voters of New Jersey

Media editorial positions

See also: Endorsements of New Jersey ballot measures, 2014

Support

  • The Record said,
Voters can complete the reform initiative on Nov. 4 by backing Public Question No. 1, which would allow defendants charged with serious crimes to be jailed pending trial with no option for bail. Voters must approve the change, because the state constitution requires a court to grant bail in all criminal cases.

The state's bail system as presently constituted has not been serving the public. In some cases, it keeps low-risk, mostly indigent defendants in jail awaiting trial for months at great burden to themselves and the correction system. Other times, the requirement of bail raises the possibility that truly dangerous individuals can be released before trial.

The Record endorses a "yes" vote on Public Question No. 1.[3]

The Record, [9]

  • The New York Times said,
Public Question 1 is a constitutional amendment to change the state’s inhumane and antiquated bail bonding system. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which supports this reform, says that nearly three-quarters of people in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. Many who are not considered dangerous are held for months or even years because they cannot afford to post bail. Gov. Chris Christie correctly compared this system to the “debtors’ prisons” of the Victorian age. The amendment would allow judges to keep defendants in jail if they are flight risks or a threat to the community, but it would also allow the pretrial release of lower-risk defendants who cannot afford bail. Vote yes on Public Question 1.[3]

New York Times, [10]

  • The Star-Ledger said,
Vote yes. This is a no-brainer designed to detain people like the drug kingpins who kill witnesses while they are out on bail, or Jose Lachira Carranza, one of the killers in the notorious 2007 Newark schoolyard murders. [3]

Star-Ledger, [11]

Path to the ballot

New Jersey Constitution
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Preamble
Articles
IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXI
See also: Amending the New Jersey Constitution

In order for the amendment to be placed on the 2014 ballot, both chambers of the legislature needed to approve it by at least 60 percent by August 4, 2014. However, in order for the legislature to vote upon such a measure, it needed to be on their desks for at least 20 days prior to the vote.

SCR 128 was introduced on July 10, 2014. An identical Assembly measure, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 177, was introduced on July 11, 2014. The Assembly measure was later replaced with the Senate version for the final vote. It was placed on the desk of both chambers on July 11, giving it sufficient time on the desks before the votes on July 31 and August 4. SCR 128 passed the Senate with a 31 to 0 vote and the Assembly with a vote of 60 to 0. Nine senators and eight assembly members did not vote on the measure.[12][8]

Senate vote

July 31, 2014 Senate vote

New Jersey SCR 128 Senate vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 31 100.00%
No00.00%

Assembly vote

August 4, 2014 Assembly vote

New Jersey SCR 128 Assembly vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 60 100.00%
No00.00%

See also

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Additional reading

References