Chief Justice Stuart Rabner is in charge of running all New Jersey state courts. It’s this role that finds him in a place of considerable clout. He’s using this position of power to create two committees that could ultimately lead to some positive, progressive changes within the court system.
Rabner announced the creation of these two committees at his yearly speech to the State Bar Association. He said he hopes they can find significant ways to overhaul the criminal and civil courts, which are both backlogged and overburdened.
Bail reform, he said, is another issue that needs to be addressed. Just last month, Governor Christie announced he would be tackling bail reform after a report from the Drug Policy Alliance outlined just how grave the bail system in New Jersey is.
When your bail is set as low as $2,000 and you can’t afford it, there’s a problem. The pretrial bail system is not meant to keep people locked up until their trial date, but that’s exactly what it’s doing. Forty percent of the 15,000 people in NJ jails last October were there because they couldn’t make bail.
“The inability to pay $500 or $1,000 in bail is costing the taxpayers in New Jersey from $30,000 to $40,000 a year, and that’s a conservative estimate,” said Roseanne Scotti with the Drug Policy Alliance.
The committees will also look at whether there should be a cut-off date for plea agreements, whether there are too many pretrial conferences, and whether evidence gathering is taking too long. This is all in an effort to shorten the length of time a case spends tied up in the courts. And as long as the proposed limits have no negative impact on the due process of the defendants, it could be a good move.
The committees will address criminal as well as civil court proceedings, in an effort to trim them all down across the board.
For someone facing criminal charges, the length of time it takes to see their case from arrest to sentencing can be months and those months can be agonizing. However, at least some of that time is necessary in order to build a proper defense. In some cases, though, the prosecution drags it out as long as possible—in part due to their workload, but also in hopes of avoiding a trial altogether.