In-Depth Insights into New Jersey’s Public Safety Assessment
PSA Assesses Defendants for the Risk of Pretrial Flight and Community Danger, Presuming the Right to Freedom During Defense Preparation
When a person is charged with a crime in New Jersey, a judge has to determine if they will be released pending trial and, if the person is released, under what conditions. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the longer someone is in jail before trial, the more susceptible they are to accepting a plea deal, even when their charges are without merit. Moreover, those who are jailed before trial receive stiffer penalties if convicted. To avoid this, New Jersey uses a system where algorithms determine how much of a threat the accused is to the community called the Public Safety Assessment (PSA). The PSA gives the judge a panoramic view of the individual, facilitating the judge’s decision on whether the person will or will not be released and any stipulations their release may have. It is not the only measure used to determine the risk of a defendant’s release before trial, but it is a helpful tool in that process.
Balancing Freedom and Community Safety in Public Safety Assessments (PSA) in NJ
The PSA’s primary purpose is to examine the defendant’s risk level on a scale of one to six. This indicates the likelihood of the defendant absconding before trial and whether or not they are a danger to the community due to previous violent behavior. The system presumes that accused people have a right to freedom while they prepare their defense.
PSA Role in Guiding Judges on Pretrial Decisions
The PSA gives judges objective, research-based information they use with other information. The judges weigh this information and other observations to determine whether a defendant will be released or remanded into custody. It is a guide that provides valuable information, but judges can evaluate it based on other factors.
Scrutinizing the Nine Components that Shape NJ Pretrial Release Evaluations
The first is the defendant’s age at the time of the arrest. There are three categories: under 20, 21 or 22, and 23 or older. The second is if the current offense was violent. A crime is labeled violent when someone purposefully attempts or causes injury by using force or violence. Common violent offenses include robbery, homicide, carjacking, abduction, kidnapping, and murder. Attempting to commit a violent crime, soliciting someone to commit a violent crime, or conspiring to do so are also considered violent crimes. Crimes of negligence or recklessness are not seen as violent unless they are categorized as violent, such as in the cases of manslaughter or homicide. Charges involving stalking are considered violent, but those such as threats, intimidation, or harassment are not. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice lists all violent crimes used as part of the PSA.
Category number three refers to pending charges. Pending charges mean the accused has a future court date for another offense (or multiple offenses), they have a FAT (failure to appear), or that the pending charges are in some kind of deferment such as PTI, conditional discharge, or conditional dismissal. Disorderly Persons Offenses are included, and the pending charge must have occurred before the current arrest. It is important to note that a prior charge that has deferred status is not seen as pending.
The next category is disorderly persons (misdemeanor) offenses. This is considered a risk factor if the defendant pleads guilty or is convicted without a deferment, PTI, or conditional dismissal. Category five refers to indictable offenses (felonies). A conviction as either a finding of guilt or a plea that is not deferred is a risk factor. Charges deferred in PTI or pending sentencing are not considered a risk factor.
Next is the category of previous violent crimes. The quantity and severity of violent crimes play a factor in this assessment segment. Each act is counted separately if multiple convictions stemming from the same crime. The seventh factor is FAT, or failure to appear pretrial for two years. This includes all court appearances after the arrest but before sentencing. If an RTA notice or bench warrant for arrest was enacted, it counts as a FAT. It must be for an indictable offense or a disorderly persons offense. FAT pretrial does not count for those who are in custody when they are to appear in court for a separate offense.
FAT pretrial older than two years is the next category. The terms are the same as the FAT within two years. If the defendant missed an appearance for pretrial in court and a notice or bench warrant was issued more than two years prior to the current arrest, it is a risk factor. The last factor is a prior sentence to incarceration. A sentence of more than two weeks for an indictable or disorderly persons offense is a risk. Prison time given to include time served also counts when the total number of days sentenced is 14 or more.
Influence of PSA on Pretrial Detention Rates in New Jersey
Using the PSA scale has reduced the number of pretrial incarcerations by more than a of the overall number of cases while also lowering the number of FTAs for pretrial appearances by a third. From January 1 to June 1, 2023, 42,000 summons or warrants were issued. Fifty-five percent were released before their court date. Of those, more than 67% appeared when required. Removing bail as a primary consideration creates a system that no longer punishes accused offenders for not having the economic means to bail out of jail; instead, it focuses on the red flags that indicate a greater risk of offending again or not appearing in court.
PSA Use of Historical Information in Risk Assessment
Four of the nine factors used in the PSA provide information about the accused’s criminal history, whether they were convicted of violent crimes or weapons charges, failed to appear within the last two years, or failed to appear in cases beyond two years. There is no hard and fast rule that a judge has to follow, but the PSA provides an overall perspective of the defendant’s criminal history.
Detailed Look at PSA’s Generated Levels and Score
The PSA measures two kinds of risk: how likely the defendant appears and how likely they are to re-offend while awaiting trial. They are measured on a scale of 0 to 6. The higher the score, the higher the risk. Defendants who are released may have conditions imposed while they await their next appearance. Failure to comply with the required conditions can result in a return to incarceration for violating the terms of the release. There are three Pretrial Monitoring Levels with various conditions. The judge can add or modify certain conditions as necessary. For example, no-contact orders are frequently included when the crime involves an offense to a victim.
A ROR (Released On Recognizance) has no conditions. This would apply to someone with a PSA of 0-2. Level I requires reporting by telephone once a month to Pretrial Services. Level II requires monthly reporting in person and by telephone. Level III requires reporting weekly alternating in-person and telephone contact. Level III Plus requires weekly reporting and a GPS tether (ankle bracelet).
Judges are not limited to placing only those conditions. For example, drug or DUI cases may require the defendant to wear an alcohol tether or submit to random drug tests. A no-contact order can be issued depending on the circumstance of the offense. Home confinement (usually with exceptions to go to work or school) is used in combination with a GPS tether to monitor a defendant’s location. Proof of employment is frequently requested by the courts as well.
Contact our Hackensack Defense Lawyers for Clear Guidance on Public Safety Assessments
When you are arrested, the process can seem confusing or frightening. When it comes to navigating the conditions of your pretrial release or even obtaining that release, to begin with, it is valuable to have the attorneys at our Hackensack criminal law firm on your side. We will prepare your case carefully to put you in the best light when the decision for your release is made. We will provide comprehensive support and representation for you from the beginning of your case to its conclusion.
If you need assistance in any criminal law matter in Bergen County, including Mahwah, Teaneck, Palisades Park, Lyndhurst, Garfield, Ridgefield, Paramus, or elsewhere in New Jersey, don’t hesitate to contact us. Call today at (201)-330-4979 or fill out a contact form. Consultations are always free and available. Talk to a lawyer today.