Setting Bail for Domestic Violence Charges

couple arguing

New Jersey takes domestic violence cases very seriously and thus, the state has set up special rules for defendants facing criminal charges involving domestic violence. For instance, violations of domestic violence restraining orders are reviewed with the same severity as serious violent indictable offenses. Moreover, if a defendant has been arrested and charged with an indictable domestic violence offense, only a New Jersey Superior Court judge can decide whether to release you. One of the worst things you can imagine has happened and you are at a loss for what to do. You or a loved one has been arrested and is being held in jail for allegedly committing an act of domestic violence. To add to your concerns, the court tells you that there is no money bail under criminal justice reform and that you must wait for the “PSA,” which stands for public safety assessment. Then, the prosecutor handling your case has the option to seek your continued detention until the case is decided. You are further advised by the court or even strangers that you cannot help by paying bail and that the best you can do is wait. However, waiting may not be the best thing to do, as timing can be everything in such situations. And while you may become frantic in your search for answers and the feeling of being lost or overwhelmed, there are things that can be done in your defense.

Need a Lawyer for Domestic Violence Detention Hearing in Union County NJ

When you have been accused of domestic violence and are being held on criminal charges related to your case, you need a lawyer highly familiar with the system. Our team of distinguished criminal defense attorneys has expansive knowledge of, and experience with, criminal justice reform (CJR) and know how the Public Safety System (PSA) works. More importantly, we understand the scoring system, what the court looks at in deciding to hold or release your loved one, and how to overcome the presumption of detention in some situations, particularly those involving domestic violence. Whether the arrest took place in Elizabeth, Scotch Plains, Westfield, Linden, Mountainside, Roselle Park, or another town in Union County, New Jersey, the lawyers at our office will fight to secure your release. If you have questions about an upcoming bail hearing for domestic violence, simply contact us at (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation.

You Cannot Pay Money Bail to get out of Jail in New Jersey

In recent years, significant changes in criminal justice took hold in the State New Jersey. Most of these changes positively impacted the way monetary bail is applied in criminal cases. Prior to the enactment of bail revisions, thousands of people were held in jail because they could not make bail. Bail, no matter how low, seemed to unfairly impact the economically disadvantaged. Essentially, only people who had access to financial resources were able to secure their freedom by the payment of money. The financially disadvantaged population was left in jail for years until their cases were either brought to trial or they were forced to plead out just to get out of jail. Now, the state implements a scoring system known as a Public Safety Assessment (PSA), which is based on factors that a defendant has more control over, unlike finances. If the PSA score is high, the court may choose to hold the person charged with the offense. If the score is low, there may be a presumption of release that the prosecutor must overcome if they want to hold you.

Your Public Safety Assessment (PSA) Matters when Deciding Your Risk

The PSA is a scoring sheet produced by Pretrial Services in the county in which you were arrested. Pretrial Service inputs your information into a computer program designed by New Jersey, that uses an algorithm in determining two very important factors. These two factors are 1) your likelihood of appearing in court as directed (top number) and 2) your risk of committing a new offense if released (bottom number). The score that is generated has two numbers, each ranging from 1 through 6. One is the lowest number a person can receive (no priors) and 6 is the highest (repeat offender) score. Often, the scores can be somewhere in the middle. For instance, you may see a score of 2/4 or 3 /4 etc. This means that you are considered to be somewhere in the middle and that you have a moderate risk of not appearing in court and a moderate to high risk of committing another offense if released. In addition to the numbers, the PSA will make a recommendation to the court, such as release, release with conditions, or no release recommended. In such situations, some of these presumptions can be overcome by the attorney arguing for release or by the prosecutor when they seek to hold you despite a release recommendation.

What Factors are Considered for a PSA score?

As noted, there is a computer-generated program that produces a PSA number and a recommendation to the court. The factors that are considered in the scoring system are:

  • Your age
  • The number of failures to appear in the past two years
  • Prior failures to appear older than 2 years
  • Your history of indictable convictions or disorderly persons offenses
  • The number of of pending cases at the time of the offense
  • Any previous sentences to imprisonment for more than 2 weeks
  • Whether the offense involves violence
  • Your prior history of violence

Sometimes, the information contained in the PSA is wrong or inaccurate. In this case, a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer at our Union County law office will inform the judge of the mistakes and may request that pretrial services re-run your score based on the correct information. We will also argue to the court that there are factors not accounted for, or conditions that can be applied that would ensure your appearance in court as directed and protect the public if released. Regardless of the facts or the public safety assessment score, we will argue vehemently for your release as we understand what pretrial jail time can do to you and your family.

Accused of Domestic Violence in New Jersey, Why are they Trying to Hold me in Jail?

The bottom line in all cases is that the court has an obligation to make sure that you show up as directed, that you do not commit new offenses, and that you are not a danger to others. The prosecutor knows and understands the judge’s concerns and will craft his or her argument in a manner that makes it appear as though you will intimidate witnesses, cause harm to an alleged victim, and that no amount of conditions can prevent the above. This is never more true than in cases involving domestic violence or crimes of violence.

Criminal offenses in New Jersey are broken down into indictable crimes (felonies), disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors), and petty disorderly persons offenses. When police arrest a person for an offense, the complaint will be put on a warrant or a summons. A warrant requires the police to hold you in jail until the court can run your pretrial risk assessment and arrive at an applicable score. Warrants are only authorized in felony cases and not generally for disorderly charges, with one exception. Simple assault cases involving domestic violence allow for the simple assault to be placed on a warrant. When this happens, the person is held in jail until the PSA is completed. Once complete, the prosecutor may nonetheless file for detention if they feel that the victim would be in danger or that you are violent. If you have any prior acts of simple assault, aggravated assault, or assault on law enforcement, you will receive a red flag which indicates an “elevated risk of violence.” A red flag generates a finding by pretrial services that you should be held in jail.

In all cases, except for life sentence eligible offenses like murder, you have the right to a presumption of release unless the score is elevated or the prosecutor successfully demonstrates that you will flee, commit new offenses, or intimidate witnesses and otherwise be a danger to the community. Nevertheless, for cases involving domestic violence, the possible danger that you pose to the alleged victim is built into the foundation of the allegations. This can be a difficult burden to overcome when the charges are for assault, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purposeterroristic threatscriminal mischiefburglarysexual assault, or another domestic violence offense, but it can be done.

Elizabeth NJ Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help With Your Release From Jail on Domestic Violence Charges

Ultimately, the decision to hold or release you is left up to the judge. Unfortunately, this decision cannot be made until the detention hearing, before which you should enlist help with preparing your best case for release. During this precious time, we get in touch with prosecutors trying to allay their fears that you will get out and hurt someone, not appear as directed, or simply commit new offenses. Toward that end we will confirm your where you live, your employment, your criminal history, your ties to the community, your willingness to stay away from the victim, and your intention in seeking drug or mental health treatment. We may also suggest terms of your release such as having no contact with the victim, monthly or weekly reporting to the court, or other conditions that will secure your release. Additionally, if the prosecutor will not agree to your immediate release, we will argue before the court seeking the same. To support our argument we can proffer evidence, provide statements of family or witnesses, and argue all of the factors that the court considered in releasing or holding you.

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime of domestic violence including harassmentsimple assault, or terroristic threats then it is important you know what you are facing and your options. If your loved one is in jail for domestic violence charges in Union County, NJ and you do not know where to turn, start here by calling now. Contact our office at (908) 838-0150 to speak with an experienced domestic violence lawyer who can answer your questions and address your concerns during a free initial consultation.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.