The right to bail is part of the heritage of the English speaking peoples. Since King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 the right to bail, a natural outcrop of the right to the presumption of innocence until tried and convicted, has been understood in our culture as a birthright. It has been confirmed in pretty much every English language governmental constitution since 1215. I personally believe that every single human being on the planet has that right. The only question is whether the particular government you live under is just enough to enshrine it into law. New Jersey, with the assent of a population that doesn’t understand what is at stake here, is about to un-enshrine it.
Whenever the government wishes to roll back our freedoms within the criminal justice system, or rather reduce the extent of our freedom they choose to recognize, they always point to the most sensational crimes, the type that only happen once a decade or so, as it’s justification. I’ve heard the 2007 Newark school yard shootings used as an example in this case. One of the killers was out on bail for a very serious crime. But in this case the bail was obviously set too low. It doesn’t mean you get rid of bail altogether.
While the occurrences of the types of crimes they use to justify the narrowing of our rights are few and far between, the application of newly acquired government power becomes routine and is often applied to situations that would have never occurred to the people who voted in favor of it. Just look at the scope of various activities that creative prosecutors and attorneys general have applied racketeering laws to. One clause in the proposed law, “will obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process” could be applied to well-meaning people who frequently engage in peaceful civil disobedience. Or maybe even against people who hire lawyers. Who knows how they’ll eventually twist it, particularly if civil disobedience becomes more commonplace and governments start to feel more threatened. Remember that surrendering freedom is very easy, winning it back is difficult at best (and usually impossible.)
The other major part of the proposed change deals with the thousands of poor, mostly young, people incarcerated while awaiting trial for non violent offenses. These people have been granted bail but can’t afford it. I would bet that at least half of these cases involve possession or distribution of marijuana. So instead of creating a new bad law to alleviate the unintended consequences of an old bad law, why don’t we just get get rid of the original bad law, namely marijuana prohibition.