Since March 2020, State courts have held a total of 12 criminal trials. According to the Office of the Public Defender, there are more than 5,000 state inmates are awaiting trial. So what impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the suspension of in-person criminal jury trials for defendants who have been detained pretrial?
In a New Jersey Supreme Court decision released on February 11, 2021, the court unanimously ruled that the ongoing trial delays have not breached the due process rights of thousands of defendants statewide. According to the court, "Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA or Act), defendants who pose a serious risk of non-appearance, danger, or obstruction can be detained before trial if no combination of conditions of release will reasonably guard against those risks. Because criminal jury trials remain suspended, the length of pretrial detention has been extended in many cases."
In the Matter of Request to Release Certain Pretrial Detainees.
The Supreme Court said no to the mass release of inmates, and said that individual cases must be heard by the lower court judges. Once raised at the trial level court, the court will then weigh whether a defendant has been in detention longer than the likely amount of time they would actually spend in jail if convicted.
According to northjersey.com, "the Public Defender's Office and the ACLU have petitioned the Supreme Court three times to release inmates due to the pandemic. In March, the court agreed to free 1,000 inmates in county jails serving low-level offenses. Over the summer, the two groups argued to expand that decision to certain state prisoners with only months left in their sentences."
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