Toughen bail law, gov says

UPDATE: To read the full story in Wednesday's paper, click here.

Gov. Christie, a former federal prosecutor, wants a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to change the state's bail laws so violent offenders are kept in jail before their trials.

Christie reaches out to shake the hand of Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno at the State of the State address as justices of the state Supreme Court look on. (Michael Bryant / Staff photographer )

The change would mirror federal practice, and bring New Jersey in line with other states that give judges more leeway in forbidding bail for the accused. Detention would be allowed if a judge determines that bail could either lead to further violence or increase the likelihood that a defendant doesn't return to court.

First announced at his State of the State speech last month, the plan dovetails with another Christie proposal, yet to be detailed, that would divert nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. While the bail amendment would theoretically increase the number of people incarcerated, his treatment proposal would lower that number.

The change would be authorized by voters after the Legislature votes to put it on the ballot. It would then be finalized in a more detailed statute that would have to be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. 

Christie and Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, at a morning news conference with several county prosecutors at the Statehouse, spoke of protecting victims and preventing witness intimidation. Said Chiesa: "If you're a victim of a crime you shouldn't have to worry about whether the person's given bail and worry about whether they are a danger to the community."