Purpose of Pretrial Monitoring
According to the New Jersey Judiciary, the purpose of pretrial monitoring is to manage a pretrial defendants' risk of failure to appear in court, the risk to the community safety, and the risk of obstructing or attempting to obstruct the criminal justice process. In essence, it is a monitoring unit within the criminal division of the courts that keeps track of defendants that have not been convicted of any criminal offense, and whose case(s) are pending in Superior Court. The New Jersey Judiciary says this about the monitoring, "The monitoring will be conducted in the most effective and least restrictive manner possible to improve the defendant's likelihood of pretrial success".
In my 30+ years of being a criminal attorney, whether as a prosecutor for 25 years or a criminal defense attorney for the past 6 years, I've never heard of pretrial success until bail reform. As a defense attorney, the only success that's meaning full is a just outcome for my client. Whether that is a "Not Guilty", a dismissal of the charges, or a plea agreement that's acceptable to my client.
What Pretrial Services is Not
- It is Not Probation
- It is Not a separate law enforcement agency
- It is Not punishment
- It is Not a social services agency.
What Pretrial Services will Not do
- They will not arrest you.
- They will not guarantee to the court that you will appear in court.
- They will not guarantee that you will re-offend.
So what do they do?
Relying on what the New Jersey Judiciary tells us, they are utilizing the least restrictive means to carry out the goal of pretrial monitoring and to ensure that appropriate pretrial defendants are released quickly as possible. New Jersey's pretrial bail reform is similar to the federal Bail Reform Act. In the federal system, the Act specifically requires that judges release individuals "subject to the least restrictive further condition, or combination of conditions, that such judicial officer determines will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community".
They monitor you. How? You call in or report to their unit as required by the court order placing you on pretrial services. They also monitor your failure to appear in court when required, track new arrests, track and submit violations of pretrial monitoring, and monitor any other conditions placed on you by the court. If one is placed on an electronic monitoring unit, then they have the responsibility to monitor and follow the location of pretrial defendants where court-ordered.
Pretrial Monitoring is Not Probation
The criminal justice reform law requires a shift from utilizing a monetary-based system (bail bondsman) to a risk-based system for pretrial release. Being placed under the supervision of the Pretrial Monitoring Unit is like being under a scaled-down version of probation, however, it is not probation. Remember the goal of the pretrial service unit is to help defendants make their court appearances and to promote public safety. The pretrial monitoring unit works with individuals that are presumptively innocent. The probation department works with individuals who have been convicted of a crime and now have fewer rights and protections. Probation departments engage in rehabilitation and sanctions. Most, if not all, pretrial services units are not located within the probation department and are housed separately.
The most important benefit of Pretrial Monitoring
One service that is extremely beneficial to a defendant on pretrial monitoring is the automated phone-call reminders about upcoming court dates. Let's face it, you can never have enough reminders for appointments. These reminders improve court appearances without disrupting your life.