The recently enacted Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) aimed to enlarge and protect the rights of criminal defendants, in part by reducing and eliminating bail and pretrial containment for non-violent offenders that do not present a risk of harm. As the CJRA is relatively new, its scope and application are still being interpreted by the courts. This was demonstrated in a recent New Jersey appellate case in which the court ruled on the issue of whether the CJRA allowed for criminal contempt charges when a defendant violates the condition of his or her pretrial release. If you are faced with criminal charges, it is critical to retain a zealous New Jersey criminal defense attorney who will work to protect your interests.

Factual History

It is reported that two defendants were arrested and charged with unspecified crimes. They were both released without bail prior to trial, but they were required to comply with certain conditions. Each defendant independently violated one of the conditions of his release, and both were charged with contempt for violation of a court order. The trial courts independently ruled that, under the CJRA, the defendants could not be charged with contempt for violating a release order. The State appealed, and the appellate court reversed, after which the defendants appealed.

Criminal Contempt Under the CJRA

On appeal, the appellate court largely affirmed the trial court rulings. The appellate court noted that when a judge orders conditional pretrial release, the defendant must be notified of the conditions in a clear and specific manner so that the defendant is apprised of what conduct is acceptable. If a court fails to notify a defendant of the repercussions for violating the terms of his or her release, it does not preclude the court from seeking any authorized remedy for the violation.

Pursuant to CJRA, if a defendant violates the terms of release, the court may impose additional conditions, but the language of CJRA does not specifically state whether the court may pursue contempt charges for a violation of a condition of pretrial release. In assessing the legislature’s intention in drafting the CJRA, however, the appellate court noted that the original draft of the bill allowed for the imposing of contempt proceedings or criminal sanctions for violating the terms of pretrial release. In the final draft, though, the language allowing for criminal sanctions was removed, along with the language that states that a violation of a condition of pretrial release could result in civil contempt and other sanctions. Based on the foregoing, the court found that the CJRA did not contemplate the imposition of contempt charges for a violation of pretrial release and reinstated that trial court ruling.

Speak to a Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney

There are numerous laws that protect the rights of criminal defendants before and after trial, including the Criminal Justice Reform Act. If you are charged with committing assault or another criminal offense in New Jersey, the dedicated defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can assist you in developing the arguments needed to provide you with a strong chance of a favorable outcome, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf. We can be reached via our form online or at 877-450-8301 to discuss your case.