In Brief

Senate clears bill enacting stricter bail rules for some gun offenses

By: - June 16, 2022 6:53 pm

The bill would permit court officials to detain more people suspected of committing gun crimes before trial. (Edwin J. Torres Governor's Office)

A measure that would change bail rules to make it more likely those charged with firearm offenses will remain in prison while awaiting trial cleared the full Senate Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Joe Cryan (D-Union) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), won a unanimous 36-0 vote and is expected to come before the Assembly next week.

The Senate’s move comes as elected officials from cities like Paterson and Newark have urged lawmakers to retool portions of the state’s bail system, which in 2017 was changed to deemphasize cash bail in favor of granting judges greater discretion over who to detain before trial.

“This will focus pretrial detention on those who pose a real threat to public safety, while ensuring a fair trial and protecting the principles of bail reform,” Cryan said.

The bill would require the Pretrial Services Program, which issues recommendations on whether a defendant should be released or detained while awaiting their day in court, to advise against release for individuals charged with firearms offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence, not including possession offenses.

It also stipulates that a recommendation would be enough to overcome the state’s presumption of release, though defendants would still be able to appeal to put the matter in a judge’s hands.

The bill initially faced opposition from the courts and civil rights and criminal justice advocates, who feared it would reverse much of the progress New Jersey has made in cutting its jail population in recent years and boost New Jersey’s already worst-in-the-nation Black-white disparity in incarceration rates.

But that opposition largely evaporated after lawmakers amended the bill to exempt a series of low-level gun crimes, like various firearms possession charges.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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