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Proposed bill would allow NJ municipal judges more flexibility

The Judiciary Committee of the New Jersey Assembly has proposed legislation that reforms criminal penalties, replacing some monetary fines with community service. Last week the committee unanimously released its recommendation that would improve judges' flexibility.

Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said, "Giving judges the extra flexibility to take into account an offender's financial standing before handing down a sentence that includes fines that realistically will never be repaid will save our local legal systems time and money in the long run. After all, time is a currency everyone values."

He went on to say, "Some offenders simply cannot afford to pay a fine, no matter the amount," said Coughlin. "For others, no fine - no matter the amount - will be enough to deter them from committing a crime. For these individuals, the threat of losing their free time to court-mandated community service may serve as a much better deterrent."

The proposed bill (A-3254) would allow municipal judges the discretion to award a community service penalty rather than requiring that the case be reopened. This would expand the number of offenses that could receive community service as a penalty. Currently, community service is usually the standard penalty for some DWI offenses, minor traffic offenses, minor in possession charges, truancy and disorderly persons charges, and some other municipal code offenses. The defendant must work for a non-profit or public agency without pay.

According to its backers, the bill would address the problem that some municipalities have - the inability to actually collect fines imposed by municipal court judges.

Source: NJ Today, "Bill Allowing Community Service Penalties Instead Of Fines Advances," Nov. 19, 2012.

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