NJ Courts Adopt New Formula for Setting Bail

July 7, 2015 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Posting BailAccording to a recent New York Times article, New Jersey and 20 other jurisdictions across the US will be adopting a new algorithm for setting bail. The new method, developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, calculates a defendant’s bail based on two given scores: one for their likelihood of committing a crime and one for their risk of failing to appear in court.

The purpose of posting bail is not to serve as a fine or punishment, but to ensure that defendants appear at all necessary court hearings. In some jurisdictions, bail is set based on the charges. In others, court officials weigh a multitude of factors such as employment status, substance abuse history, and criminal record. Judges evaluate these factors and use their discretion to set bail at a fixed sum.

Critics argue that the traditional form of setting bail disadvantages minority and poor populations, creates unnecessary overcrowding in jails, and allows for biases to work their way into the decision-making process. According to a recent analysis of the jail population in New Jersey (PDF), 40 percent of people in New Jersey’s jails were not serving a sentence based on a conviction, but were rather waiting for their court days and unable to post bail.

The new Arnold assessment has been met with skepticism because it does not take into account characteristics that judges and prosecutors normally consider relevant such as community ties, employment status, or history of alcohol and drug abuse.  However, Anne Milgram, Vice President for Criminal Justice for the Arnold Foundation and former Attorney General of New Jersey, explained that the new algorithm will not replace a judge’s discretion. “Fewer than 10 percent of all jurisdictions use formal risk assessments. A defendant’s risk scores are given to the judge before bail conditions are set, and are meant to augment, not replace, the judge’s discretion.”

 The state of Kentucky adopted the Arnold assessment two years ago. The state has seen numerous advantages, such as requiring less staffing and eliminating factors that were irrelevant, subjective, or discriminatory. In addition, some risk factors that were traditionally considered very predictive of defendant’s future behavior, such as drug abuse, were revealed to be less indicative than previously thought.

If you or a loved one was charged with a crime in New Jersey, call the Rosenblum Law Firm at 888-979-7551. Our skilled attorneys will help you navigate every aspect of the New Jersey criminal defense system, including posting bail.