ACLU-NJ, Other Civil Rights Groups Push Back Against Bail Industry Challenge to Pretrial Justice Reforms

Groups file friend-of-the-court brief in lawsuit by insurance-backed bail industry to overturn landmark reforms

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
July 28, 2017 1:45 pm

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NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), joined by the national ACLU and several other civil rights groups, submitted a brief on July 28 opposing a federal lawsuit brought by plaintiffs challenging New Jersey’s pretrial justice reforms that went into effect in January.

The Drug Policy Alliance, Latino Action Network and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) New Jersey State Conference, joined the ACLU-NJ and the national ACLU in a friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, in the class-action case Brittan B. Holland, et al. v. Kelly Rosen, et al.

The plaintiffs, which include Lexington National Insurance Corp., a Florida company based in Maryland, are seeking to halt an initiative that in six months has achieved one of its key objectives, lowering New Jersey jail populations by more than 20 percent. The lawsuit aims to force New Jersey to use commercial bail bonds companies and wrongly claims that the ability to buy one’s way out of jail and out of conditions of pretrial release is a constitutional right.

“This suit represents a misguided effort by bail bondsmen, and the insurance companies backing them, to continue a centuries-old legacy of unjustly profiting on the backs of those accused — though not convicted — of crimes,” said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “The reforms now provide criminal defendants with constitutionally required protections and supports the best interest of the public, ensuring that pretrial detention or release is not determined by one’s ability to pay.”

Holland, accused of second-degree aggravated assault for his role in an April bar fight, was released subject to home detention and electronic monitoring. His release conditions were based on a risk-assessment protocol tied to the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), which went into effect in New Jersey on Jan. 1, greatly reducing the role of money bail in determining whether someone charged with a crime is detained.

“The decision to impose tailored, liberty-restricting conditions of pretrial release which are the least restrictive conditions that ensure public safety doesn’t violate the Constitution,” said Shalom.

The ACLU-NJ and partnering groups also argued Lexington National does not assert violations of its own constitutional rights, and therefore should not be a participant in the lawsuit. Several states prohibit the use of commercial bail bond companies, a fact that already has been adjudicated in several courts.

“The plaintiffs’ entire suit hinges on the notion that the constitution guarantees the use of a bail bonds company,” said Shalom. “For years, other states have used alternatives to the commercial bail bond industry. It’s not only constitutional for New Jersey to relegate the use of bail bondsmen to option of last resort, it’s good public policy.”

Read the brief online:

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