A “broad-based” investigation into the practices of the New Jersey bail bond business is underway, thanks to the State Commission of Investigation. So, what’s the problem with bail bonds in the Garden State?
According to some law enforcement officials, a number of dangerous criminals, including thieves, drug dealers and even suspected murderers, are enjoying freedom before their trials, due to some questionable “installment” bail bonds methods.
A new breed of bail bondmen is popping up in New Jersey, all marketing themselves as big risk-takers; based, at least, on their weekly payment plan bail schemes. And let’s face it: A weekly payment plan for a lofty bail is often just the ticket for criminals who would otherwise face months behind bars awaiting trial.
Pass by one of these bail bondsmen and you might see a sign in the window offering a “zero-down payment plan” or “instant approval.” This type of language is just what many criminals are looking for, as it is shadowy language for this new breed of bail bond. Although the practice itself is not illegal, the Commission of Investigation is nevertheless looking into this practice to determine if this type of bail system is one that should exist in NJ.
Before the introduction of payment plans in New Jersey, criminal defendants would be required to pay the full premium of the bail. For example, if a bail was set at $100,000, a defendant would need to come up with $10,000 to post bail. Even if the defendant was found not guilty of the crime, the money was not refundable by the bail bondsman.
However, under these new bail bond payment systems, defendants may have to come up with as little as 3 percent and pay the rest in monthly installments to the bail bondsman. The result is that more defendants are able to post bail. But many officials say this is simply making the streets more dangerous by allowing dangerous criminals to roam free as they await trial.
Many prosecutors view this system as deeply flawed, saying that its growth in recent years has “upended” a traditional bail industry that ensures defendants show up in court. Competition among these new bail bondsmen has even resulted in lower, upfront payments, with some offering as little as 0 percent down.
Prosecutors also say that the deals being offered effectively undercut a judge’s order, and many prosecutors report that they regularly see defendants on these low-percentage bails returning to court with new, pending charges.