Right now, under the New Jersey State Constitution, everyone is entitled to bail before conviction, except in cases where the defendant is charged with capital crimes that are punishable by death.

Because New Jersey has eliminated the death penalty, everybody is actually entitled to bail. Legislation in Trenton that mirrors federal law seeks to give judges some discretion.

Donna Simon and Dave Rible sponsor the legislation in the Assembly. According to Simon, "It is imperative that public safety be a high priority when a judge determines whether to grant bail. Federal law takes into account the dangers and risks posed by someone charged with a serious crime. New Jersey courts must have the same ability to protect the public."

"Empowering judges to deny bail to a defendant with a violent history affirms that New Jersey is serious about protecting its citizens and communities," says Rible, the Assembly Republican Conference Leader and retired police officer. "Like federal law, there must be a balance between a defendant's rights and keeping our neighborhoods safe. Judges must have the appropriate standards to determine this issue. Protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation by the offender is vitally important. No one wants to hear stories of a crime committed by someone with a dangerous past while they were free on bail awaiting trial."

Tomorrow, the State Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will hold a public hearing on an identical resolution that proposes constitutional amendment to provide that release on bail may be denied to certain offenders. The panel has already unanimously approved the measure co-sponsored by State Senators Donald Norcross, Kevin O'Toole and Dick Codey.

The proposed amendment must lay on the desks of legislators for a period of 20 calendar days, and a public hearing must be held on the measure, prior to a vote by the full Senate. Any proposed constitutional amendment must receive a three-fifths vote in each house of the Legislature to be submitted to voters in November of the year it is proposed; if the measure receives a majority vote, but not a three-fifths vote, it may be submitted to the voters after a second majority vote the following year.

"Offenders who commit heinous crimes and demonstrate that they are a continued threat to the public should not be released back into our communities to commit additional violent acts against our residents," says Norcross, chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. "Providing judges with the ability to use discretion in deciding whether to allow bail will ensure there is an effective system in place to protect residents from those who are considered the 'worst of the worst' criminals in society."

O'Toole says, "Judges should be able to determine whether defendants are held without bail to protect the public and ensure defendants make timely appearances in court. This amendment applies to defendants who pose a great public safety risk or those with track records of disrupting the integrity of our criminal justice process."

The amendment authorizes courts under certain conditions to deny pretrial release of certain offenders. In order to deny pretrial release, the court would be required to find that no amount of bail, pretrial release conditions, or combination of bail and conditions would assure the defendant's appearance for trial. The court also could deny pretrial release to protect the safety of any person or the community, or to prevent the defendant from obstructing or attempting to obstruct the criminal justice process. The amendment also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws establishing procedures, terms, and conditions applicable to releasing defendants prior to trial and denial of pretrial release.

Voters would be asked to approve the constitutional amendment in a November ballot question.

A 2007 report by the US Department of Justice showed that 33 percent of individuals charged with a felony in the state courts studied committed one or more types of misconduct within a year of being released prior to the disposition of their case. Of those individuals, a bench warrant for failure to appear in court was issued for 23 percent. An estimated 17 percent were arrested for a new offense, 11 percent of those for a felony.