NJ Courts are Letting Accused Criminals — Including This Sex Offender — Out of Jail
LITTLE EGG HARBOR — An Ocean County sex offender accused of once again preying on a child.
A Passaic County man charged with punching a Clifton police officer.
A Hudson County man accused of shooting a victim.
A Connecticut woman accused of killing two Mercer County residents in a road-rage incident.
What they all have in common: They are among countless criminal defendants who Superior Court judges have sprung from jail under the state's new bail reform rules, which critics say is returning potentially dangerous criminals to the streets.
The police chief of Little Egg Harbor this week put his community on notice after judges released Christopher Wilson, 20, pending a trial on charges that he tried to trade a video game for sex with a 12-year-old girl.
Wilson's record includes a juvenile conviction for sexual assault on a minor.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato argued Wilson posed a risk, but judges disagreed, applying new rules mean to protect poor defendants who can't afford high bails from sitting behind bars until their trials.
The new rules also are meant to allow judges to keep defendants who pose a public risk, such as those accused of murder or crimes that could lead to life sentences, behind bars before and during their trials with no means to post bail. Under previous rules, bail was only meant to ensure that a defendant would return to stand trial and judges were not allowed to take public risk into consideration.
Judges now use a computer program to assess a defendant's risk and impose conditions on release, including checking in with court officers or remaining confined at home. Factors that judges consider include age, pending charges, prior convictions, history of violent crimes and prior failures to appear in court.
In practice, this has resulted in judges releasing people accused of serious crimes.
Critics — including the state's bail bondsmen, who face going out of business — say the reforms are not what citizens expected.
"These sweeping changes to New Jerseys laws not only makes the citizens LESS SAFE but will cost the taxpayers MILLIONS," according to the website bailreformnj.com, which was launched by a bail bondsman.
The group's Facebook page posts daily articles about criminal defendants released by the state's judges before trial.
— Two Paterson men who led police on a high-speed chase through three highways before slamming into a police car on Route 80.
— An accused drug dealer who Toms River police say was in possession of about 1,850 doses of heroin.
— A former military police officer at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst who moved to Connecticut after a 2015 road rage allegation. She was indicted on two counts of second-degree manslaughter for allegedly running Nicholas Cooper, 26, and Jocelyn Redding, 23, off the road. Burlington County prosecutors argued for a judge to detain Shade Cooper, 26, but a judge found no reason to keep her locked up under the new rules.
— An ex-con from North Carolina who Teaneck police said was carrying marijuana and a loaded handgun with two rounds of ammunition in his car. Police also said Tariq N. Bryant, 22, gave them a false name. He was released from custody Thursday, court records show.
None of the defendants have been found guilty of their recent charges.
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