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Brick Concerned Bail Reform Law Could Inflate Public Defender Costs

The Ocean County Justice Complex, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The Ocean County Justice Complex, Toms River, N.J. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick officials say the state’s new bail reform law, which went into effect Jan. 1, could cost taxpayers due to higher public defender costs.

The controversial bail reform law sought to rate alleged criminals on a scale of one through six, with a higher score meaning the suspect is more likely to flee or re-offend. The idea was to ensure those who commit petty crimes aren’t stuck in jail because they cannot make bail, while those who commit serious crimes are not freed simply because they have the means to meet bail. But the real world result, some of have said, is that dangerous criminals are, more often, being released under the policy. The cases of a sex offender in Little Egg Harbor and a mentally disturbed individual being released in Toms River have ratcheted up the criticism, while also spurring the county prosecutor’s office to oppose more cases of offenders set to be freed without bail.

For towns like Brick, the move to oppose the releases have led to public defenders being called to superior court in Toms River to defend cases that normally would have been heard once in municipal court. In Brick, public defenders are paid $500 per court session.

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“We have a certain amount budgeted because we know how many court sessions we have in a year, and then they threw this monkey wrench into the whole thing,” said Mayor John Ducey, who is hoping the township council will vote in favor of a resolution Tuesday night supporting changes to the law. “It could get very expensive.”

Brick has had two such cases in the last ten days. If that pace were to keep up, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

There are two potential solutions, Ducey said: either assigning the cases to a mandatory pro-bono attorney list or assigning them to state public defenders who are already seated in Toms River handling cases.

“It’s costing the town every time our public defender has to go down to Toms River,” said Ducey.