by | Feb 12, 2021

New Jersey bail reform proponents are still celebrating and will tell you that the State’s bail reform law, which took effect in January of 2017, has been a wonderful success. Proponents will also argue that the State’s pretrial services program is a successful & progressive model, as the “presumed innocent” should not be incarcerated while awaiting the disposition of their criminal matter.

Unfortunately, the presumption of innocence argument is not paramount at a pretrial detention hearing, in which a New Jersey Superior Court judge considers the facts of the accused’s case, but strongly weighs the prosecutor’s argument concerning the number and seriousness of the current charge(s), the accused’s past record, and the release recommendation of the pretrial services program. Unlike other states which have adopted bail reform rules, New Jersey judges do not permit bail for criminal defendants. Thus, the bottom line is that unless a criminal defendant is permitted pretrial release by the court, he/she will remain “behind bars”.

I am one, among countless others, who will concede that New Jersey’s old bail system had a harsh impact on poor people, typically minorities, who could not afford a bail, a bail bond or post property. However, the legal principal, that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, which was the basis for overhauling New Jersey’s bail system, does not apply to many accused of a serious or violent crime. Why? Because a bail option is no longer utilized by the courts. Instead of reforming its bail system, which had some flaws, New Jersey has essentially gotten rid of bail.

I feel compelled to write this blog now because a client of my firm was recently charged with an armed robbery. When he was a young adult, the client had received probation for other minor cases, but through grit, hard work, and determination, he managed to obtain a good job. The client also met a nice young woman & they started a family. While the State’s preliminary evidence against the client for the new matter is very sketchy (note: probable cause for an arrest is a surprisingly weak legal standard) and he has good scores on the so called risk scales, the pretrial service program has filed its recommendation of “no release” due to the robbery charge.

While I am confident that my firm will eventually clear the client of any wrongdoing, the bail reform rules can permit the court to jail him during the pendency of his case and without primary regard to his job, his family, and his future. It is my opinion that bail should still be part of the court’s analysis and to permit loved ones the opportunity to get a defendant released by exercising that option. This is a point of contention as many in the criminal justice system still rely on the preconceived notion to impose preventive detention, i.e., “jail,” when there is an allegation of a serious or violent crime.

I cordially invite any and all prospective clients or their loved ones to immediately contact me concerning pre-trial detention as the New Jersey Superior Courts no longer permit bail and these hearings are usually held just days after the arrest. While there have been improvements and there are excellent judges in this state, the present pretrial release system is quite scary as prosecutors often move for pretrial detention. Hence, there must be a readiness, on the experienced lawyer’s part, to aggressively argue for the client’s liberty. If the accused has already been denied his/her freedom, also immediately contact me as my firm has also been successful in the re-opening of prior detention orders.

Steven F. Wukovits is a certified criminal trial attorney and NJ Super Lawyer at Triarsi, Betancourt, Wukovits & Dugan, LLC. If you or a loved one were arrested and/or charged with a crime and have questions regarding your rights, including pretrial release, contact Steven F. Wukovits at (908) 709-1700, on his cellular phone at (973) 722-7348, or by email

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