On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law a multitude of leftover bills from the prior year’s legislative session. Among the leftover legislation was bill A-3254. The bill amends N.J.S.A. 2B:12-23.1, “Penalties Payable in Installments; Alternative Penalties.” The new bill adds language to the statute to allow municipal court judges to order any person found guilty of a nonviolent criminal offense like disorderly conduct or criminal mischief to perform community service in lieu of paying a fine.
In effect, the revised statute offers relief for individuals who are unable to pay court fines to perform community service instead of going to jail. Typically, when a defendant does not pay a court-imposed fine or fails to make a time-payment, the municipal court judge is permitted to sentence the defendant to county jail time. The defendant is then given credit (approximately $50) against the amount owed for each day of confinement.
The new amendment serves the interest of justice and efficiency. As a result of the flexibility afforded judges, county jails are less likely to be overwhelmed by time-payment offenders. This could ultimately save NJ taxpayers thousands of dollars while still allowing courts to levy meaningful punishments.
For the full text version of A-3254, visit the NJ Legislature website.