Friday, September 22, 2017
Judge Jerome B. Simandle (D.N.J.) today declined to halt New Jersey's bail-reform law. The law provides for alternative, non-monetary pretrial release options in order to give poor defendants (who often can't afford bail) a shot at pretrial release while still serving other criminal justice interests. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the law violated the Eighth Amendment, due process, and the Fourth Amendment.
The preliminary ruling, denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, leaves the law in place, for now. But today's order isn't a final ruling on the merits.
The plaintiffs lawyered-up big time (Paul Clement appeared pro hac), suggesting that this is just the first step in their aggressive challenge to New Jersey's law. One reason for the attention to the case: Taking money out of the bail system also takes away a stream of revenue from corporations like plaintiff Lexington National Insurance Corporation. As more jurisdictions look to non-monetary bail options to avoid keeping poor, nonviolent defendants behind bars pending trial, bail providers stand to lose even more.
The New Jersey bail-reform law sets up a five-stage, hierarchical process for courts to follow in setting bail. It allows for pretrial release of certain defendants with non-monetary conditions, like remaining in the custody of a particular person, reporting to a designated law enforcement agency, home supervision with a monitoring device, and the like. In order to help navigate the process for any particular defendant, the court gets risk-assessment recommendations from a Pretrial Services Program. According to the court, in less than a year under this system, "[t]his reform has shown great success in placing persons into pretrial release who would previously have been held in jail for failure to meet monetary bail and because pretrial monitoring options were largely unavailable. As a result, many fewer defendants are being detained in jail as they await trial."
Using this system, a New Jersey court ordered plaintiff Brittan Holland released, but subject to home confinement (except for work), with an ankle bracelet for monitoring, weekly reporting, and no contact with the victim. (Holland was charged with second-degree aggravated assault and agreed to these conditions on his release in exchange for the state withdrawing its application for detention.)
Holland argued that the system deprived him of a right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release, and that as a result his conditions amount to an undue restraint on his liberty. (He said that the conditions "severely restricted [his] liberty, disrupted [his] family life, made [him] concerned about [his] job security, and made [him] feel that [his] life is up in the air.") Plaintiff Lexington, a national underwriter of bail bonds, joined, arguing that the system would cause it to lose money.
The court ruled first that Holland had standing, but that Lexington probably did not. Here's how the court explained Holland's standing:
Holland claims that his injury is not simply the restriction on his liberty, but rather the imposition of that restriction after a hearing that violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He claims that such injury will be sufficiently redressed should the Court order that a hearing respecting those constitutional rights (as he understands them) be held, regardless of the ultimate outcome of such a hearing. Should the Court order such a hearing to be held, the relief then would not be speculative. He claims that he was injured by the holding of a hearing that did not afford him his constitutional rights, including the alleged right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release pending trial, and that ordering a new hearing that does afford him those rights will redress that injury.
As to Lexington, the court said that it failed to establish standing for itself (because it could only assert harms of a third party, someone like Holland), and that it likely failed to establish third-party standing (because criminal defendants don't face any obstacles in bringing their own claims--obviously, in light of Holland's participation in the suit). (The state also argued that Lexington lacked prudential standing, because its injury doesn't fall within the zone of interests of the statute. The court said that the state could raise that argument later, as part of a failure-to-state-a-claim argument.)
Next, the court said that Younger abstention was inappropriate, because "[p]laintiffs, here, do not seek to enjoin the state prosecution against Holland; instead, they challenge the procedure by which the conditions of pre-trial release during that prosecution was decided and seek an injunction ordering a different procedure."
As to the merits, the court held that the plaintiffs were unlikely to success on all claims. The court said that the Eighth Amendment doesn't guarantee monetary bail, and that Holland waived his right to it, anyway. It said that Holland received procedural due process, and that he had no right to monetary bail under substantive due process. And it said that conditions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and, again, that Holland agreed to them, anyway.