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New Jersey Bail-Reform Law Ducks Challenge

Finding no constitutional right to monetary bail, a federal judge commended New Jersey’s bail-reform scheme for cutting down the Garden State’s pretrial jail population by more than one-third. 

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – Unhappy with New Jersey’s bail-reform scheme for different reasons, a bail-bond business and accused barroom brawler under house arrest failed to demonstrate that they are likely to prevail on their constitutional challenge.

Lexington National Insurance Corp. brought the lawsuit in question earlier this year alongside Brittan Holland, a criminal defendant who might have been a prospective client of Lexington’s but for New Jersey’s recently enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act.

Moving from a resource-based system of pretrial release to one based on risk, the CJRA has been lauded since taking effect this past January as leveling the playing field for poor defendants.

Defendants are still subject to monetary bail under the new system, but it is a largely a last resort and to reasonably assure they appear in court.

In Holland’s underlying assault case, Camden County prosecutors opted to impose house arrest instead of bail or pretrial detention to ensure that he appear in court.

Holland was arrested this past April on charges that he became unruly while watching an Eagles-Cowboys game from Joe’s Tavern in Sicklerville, leaving a fellow football with multiple facial fractures.

While the bail-bond business claims that New Jersey’s reform law has cost it customers,

Holland claims that home confinement while he awaits trial is unfairly restrictive.

The terms of Holland’s release allow him to leave the house for work but not to take his son to baseball practices or carry out other responsibilities such as food shopping.

Refusing to enjoin the law Thursday, however, U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle found neither party showed a likelihood of success on the merits.

In Holland’s case, the court noted, he voluntarily agreed to the pretrial release terms.

“One who waives the judicial process may not claim due process is denied,” the 94-page opinion states.

Simandle also called Holland “a far cry from the hypothetical non-violent defendant” who would have been the ideal candidate for less restrictive pretrial-release conditions. Furthermore Holland should have challenged the terms of his release in the New Jersey Appellate Division before bringing a lawsuit, Simandle found.

“A federal court injunction is not a necessary remedy where the prospect of a state remedy is available,” the opinion states.

Simandle found as well that the “strength of the public interest” in the new bail system outweighs the need for injunctive relief, noting that New Jersey’s pretrial jail population is 35.4 percent smaller on June 30, 2017, than than the previous year.

New Jersey’s new bail system was passed after voters in 2014 voted for a referendum that called for reforms. Gov. Chris Christie had long pushed for the reforms, arguing that under the old system any defendant could be granted monetary bail, even violent offenders.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in support of the law, hailed Simandle’s ruling. “No system of pretrial release and detention, including this one, is perfect, but the last thing we need is to heed the bail industry’s desperate call to increase reliance on money bail,” ACLU-NJ attorney Alexander Shalom said in a statement.

The American Bail Coalition released a statement as well, noting that Holland had agreed to the pretrial conditions “with a gun of sort to his head” as he faced detention for the entire case if he did not agree to the conditions.

“While we think the analysis on the Eighth Amendment was erroneous vis-a-vis the individual’s right to bail under the Eighth Amendment, we think the debate over the meaning of the Eighth Amendment is far from settled,” coalition executive director Jeff Clayton said.

“While proponents of New Jersey bail reform will trumpet this case as an Iwo Jima of sorts, the truth is this case is far from over,” Clayton added.

Holland’s attorneys are considering an appeal.

He and Lexington were represented in the challenge before Simandle by Justin Taylor Quinn with Robinson Miller in Newark, and by Paul Clement of the Washington, D.C., firm Kirkland & Ellis.

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