Politics

How A New Jersey Bar Fight Could Bring Down The State’s Bail Laws

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter

A federal judge may take New Jersey’s Bail Reform Act out of effect after hearing arguments Tuesday from litigators representing a man convicted of assault in a bar fight.

The bail reforms have faced an onslaught of litigation from money-bail advocates since they took effect in January. Lexington National Insurance (LNI), the insurance company that filed the most recent lawsuit, argued for an injunction against the reforms Tuesday, claiming the reforms infringe on the constitutional right to bail guaranteed in the Eighth Amendment, the New Jersey Law Journal reported.

New Jersey’s Bail Reform Act created a risk-assessment tool to determine whether defendants should be released without needing to pay bail. Advocates argue the tool ensures equality and will help empty prisons of defendants awaiting trial on the public’s dime. However, its critics — including law enforcement and bail insurance companies — argue that the tool releases dangerous criminals.

LNI’s lawsuit pertains to Dallas Cowboys fan Britton Holland, who was charged with aggravated assault after a bar fight in New Jersey with a Philadelphia Eagles fan. A judge ordered that Holland be released without bail wearing a GPS tracker, per his risk assessment. Under previous policy, he likely would have been released with no limitations after paying a bail fee.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement filed the lawsuit June 15, calling Holland’s GPS tracker “a modern-day scarlet letter,” and arguing that Holland couldn’t even leave his home to bring his son to baseball practice. Clement argues the Eighth Amendment guarantees bail and that the new law infringes on that right.

LNI has been a constant enemy to bail reform in numerous states, fearing that a decreased reliance on money bail could run the bail bond industry out of business. (RELATED: ‘Dog The Bounty Hunter’ Targeting Chris Christie)

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino referenced past challenges to the state’s bail reform in a statement responding to the lawsuit, which names him as a defendant.

“We intend to vigorously defend this suit, just as we have the numerous prior unsuccessful attempts to upend these reforms,” Porrino said in June.

New Jersey shrugged off another lawsuit earlier this year from the New Jersey Association of Counties, which argued that the bail law constituted an unfunded mandate on the state’s counties. The lawsuit was thrown out in a 4-3 decision by the state’s Council on Local Mandates.

Local police have also criticized the bail law for releasing too many potentially dangerous defendants. An illegal immigrant living in New Jersey was released from a county corrections center in May under the new bail law and went on to rob two homes before he was arrested again the same week. Police contended that he should never have been released.

“With the old bail guidelines, he would have been held in the MCACC with a bail between $10,000-$50,000 due to the degree of his charges,” police said.

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