Challenging N.J. criminal justice overhaul, South Jersey man sues for right to cash bail

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 Brittan Holland was forced to wear a GPS monitor after he was charged with aggravated assault in South Jersey bar fight. The incident sparked a challenge to New Jersey's criminal justice overhaul. (Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick via Wikimedia Commons)

Brittan Holland was forced to wear a GPS monitor after he was charged with aggravated assault in South Jersey bar fight. The incident sparked a challenge to New Jersey's criminal justice overhaul. (Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the first major challenges to New Jersey’s new bail system hinges on an unlikely argument: that defendants should be able to pay cash bail if they want to.

In June Brittan Holland, of Sicklerville, sued New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino and other state officials in federal court, claiming he was entitled to but denied the chance to pay bail before trial on an aggravated assault charge stemming from a bar fight on April 6.

Under the state’s criminal justice overhaul, which virtually eliminated monetary bail, Holland was brought before a judge to decide whether he should be let go or kept in jail before trial.

The computer algorithm tasked with determining whether Holland might skip a court date or commit another crime while out on release recommended detaining him until trial, but a judge let Holland go with the caveats that he remain confined to his home and wear a GPS bracelet. Judges only issue cash bail in rare circumstances now.

Holland’s attorneys say their client could have avoided the restrictive conditions placed upon him had he been offered the option to pay cash bail, which they say he would have fulfilled with a bail bond. “It’s a price that some people are willing to pay,” said Paul Clement, one of Holland’s attorneys, in federal court Tuesday. “Why take away the option to pay it?”

Clement argued that the new state law requires judges to consider other options, such as home detention or GPS monitoring, before they can weigh issuing cash bail. That, he said, makes it more likely that defendants willing to pay to ensure their appearance in court will instead have a physical restriction imposed on them to achieve the same goal. “New Jersey is the only jurisdiction that has put monetary bail definitively behind this emergency glass,” he said.

The state’s criminal justice system overhaul, which took effect on January 1, aimed to help poor defendants who were stuck in jail on bails they couldn’t afford by virtually eliminating cash bail altogether. It also allowed judges to detain defendants deemed a flight risk or a danger to the public, something that had not been allowed under the law before.

Assistant Attorney General Stuart Feinblatt acknowledged in federal court Tuesday that “monetary bail has been de-prioritized” under the state’s new criminal justice system, noting that the old scheme was “unfair and discriminatory” to those who couldn’t pay.

Feinblatt also said that cash bail is still appropriate for certain nonviolent defendants, but Holland is not one of them. Holland was charged with a violent felony, Feinblatt argued, and was previously convicted of simple assault.

Holland is joined in the lawsuit by co-defendant Lexington National Insurance Corporation, a Maryland-based bail bond agency that claims it has been financially harmed by the criminal justice overhaul.

Holland’s attorneys were seeking a preliminary injunction that would allow their client to pay bail and rid himself of the other conditions of his pretrial release.

U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle said he would rule on the matter within three weeks.

Another major challenge to the bail reform efforts in New Jersey is an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by June Rodgers, whose son, Christian, was shot 22 times and killed in Vineland on April 9th. Jules Black, who was arrested with a gun and released several days earlier, is being charged with Rodgers’ murder.

Photo:  (Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick via Wikimedia Commons)

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