In Brief

New Jersey parolees can get public defenders under new law

By: - September 13, 2023 6:42 am

Under a new law signed Tuesday, parolees will get a public defender at parole revocation hearings for the first time in three decades, an effort to ensurer a fairer system for people who can't afford to hire attorneys. (Photo by Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

Parolees in New Jersey will now get free legal representation at parole revocation hearings under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way, acting as governor.

Previously, parolees couldn’t get public defenders and were forced to rely on pro-bono representation from a list of lawyers maintained by the Judiciary. But they had no guarantee their assigned attorney would be experienced in criminal law or that their assignment would be timely, risking inequitable “consequences of great magnitude,” according to a Supreme Court-created panel that recommended the change last May.

The Office of the Public Defender, since its founding in 1974, used to represent parolees at revocation hearings, but that changed in 1991, when the state’s appropriations act expressly banned the use of state funds for that purpose. Every subsequent annual budget bill has included the same prohibition, according to a 2021 report in which the office called for reforms.

The new law comes nearly three months after Murphy signed another bill that ends public defender fees charged at the state level and voids liens imposed on clients who couldn’t afford to pay them.

The bill and four others were the first Way signed into law since she took office last week.

Way, who replaced the late Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, began serving as acting governor Tuesday morning after Gov. Phil Murphy traveled to New Hampshire for the day for a National Governors Association meeting.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.