The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office recently announced that law enforcement would no longer arrest individuals out on bail of $500 or less for warrants of skipping a court date for minor crimes or missing a payment.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s ruling states that individuals with “bench warrants” who are on bail for such a small sum and fail to show up to court or pay fines will no longer be arrested.
A bench warrant refers to warrants issued by a judge for individuals who miss their court date or do not pay a fine.
“Residents will no longer be subjected to unnecessary and intrusive custodial arrests for hundreds of thousands of outstanding low-level warrants — and officers across New Jersey will avoid spending time effectuating and processing such arrests that by and large do not further public safety,” Platkin said in a statement.
The rationale for the ruling is to free up time for police to focus on higher-level crimes.
Platkin believes the ruling will also help to reduce potentially violent and deadly police encounters, as well as pretrial incarceration.
The state’s most influential police unions, including the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, are supporting the directive.
“These are low-level offenses in which municipal courts routinely issue new dates,” Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski said. “This directive allows police officers to remain in-service and on patrol by reducing the time spent encountering the public about municipal court bench warrants.”
Before the ruling, anyone who missed a court date could be arrested on a bench warrant for minor violations like parking tickets, disorderly conduct or shoplifting.
Now, there will no longer be arrest warrants out for people on $500 bail or less who skip court or fail to be fined for minor offenses.
Jeanne LoCicero, the legal director for New Jersey’s ACLU chapter, said the measure is “an important step in preventing unnecessary arrests and jail time, which disrupt lives, jobs and families.”
Criminal justice reformers hope the policy change will improve relations between the police and the communities they serve and will reduce the backlog of court cases caused by the pandemic.