On September 28, 2017, the New Jersey Attorney General issued a revised Directive regarding how police and prosecutors are to handle cases in the wake of this past year’s criminal justice reforms. Predictably, the Attorney General’s policy changes are geared towards subjecting more defendants to pre-trial detention. The more people detained pre-trial, the more people are likely to plead guilty. More guilty pleas mean less trials for prosecutors. Less trials means less work.
The reason that detained people are more likely to plead guilty is because if they reject a plea offer, they will be forced to remain incarcerated while they wait for a trial date. People who are not detained pre-trial will remain at liberty until they receive an acceptable plea offer. Because the recent criminal justice reforms require that detained defendants have their time-consuming trials before “street cases”, defendants who are not detained pre-trial will be waiting years for a trial date. During that time, witnesses become unavailable and their memories fade. Thus, “street case” defendants will naturally receive better offers with the passage of time. On the other hand, detained defendants will have to choose between the uncertainty of a jury trial with potentially harsh penalties or taking a plea deal that is just good enough to persuade them to give up their right to a jury trial.
The first revision concerned whether a defendant should be charged by a summons or a warrant. If released on summons, a defendant leaves the police station after the initial processing without any pre-trial release conditions. A warrant triggers a holding period of up to 48 hours wherein the Court will determine what conditions should be placed on the defendant’s release or, if the prosecution will move for pretrial detention. The revision did away with releasing defendants on summonses when they required “minimal pretrial release conditions.” Now, any perceived need for conditions triggers release on a warrant.