Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and John Catalano issued a stern warning about public safety after Democrats passed legislation that will help violent criminals evade prison time.
"Trenton Democrats just passed soft-on-crime legislation that violent offenders and sexual predators will be able to exploit to evade prosecution and jail time," said Sen. Holzapfel. "Individual prosecutors will have the authority to divert almost any offender into a Mental Health Diversion Program prior to prosecution without the input of a judge. There would be no jail time, even for violent crimes, and the offender's record would automatically be eligible for expungement. This legislation will put public safety at risk and significantly weaken the justice system for victims of crimes."
The legislation, S-524, creates a Mental Health Diversion program that could be used to prevent prosecution of violent crimes, Megan's Law offenses, arson, and more.
Senate Republicans have warned that disorders as common as depression would qualify an offender for the diversion program. A child sexual predator charged with a Megan's Law offense, for example, could hire a social worker to say they suffered depression at the time of the crime and avoid prosecution and jail time. Upon completion of the program, they would be treated to a graduation ceremony and have their criminal record eligible for expungement.
"It is utterly incomprehensible that we would allow violent offenders and sexual predators off the hook just because a hired social worker diagnosed them with depression," said Asm. McGuckin. "Diversion might be okay for low-level, non-violent crimes, but the bill as currently written is absolutely insane. Governor Murphy needs to send it back to the Legislature so we can work on a bipartisan solution that respects victims and enhances public safety."
Governor Murphy also increased the justice system's burden on New Jersey taxpayers by signing S-3771, which repealed the law concerning payment for services provided by the Office of Public Defenders.
Under the new law, public defenders are required to provide representation to defendants free of charge. Additionally, any outstanding costs previously assessed for services will be cleared.
"Everyone has the constitutional right to representation when they appear as a defendant in court. This should not preclude public defenders from obtaining a reasonable fee for their services from the individuals that they are representing," said Asm. Catalano. "By eliminating public defenders fees, the government is making taxpayers bear the full burden of legal representation for people accused of breaking the laws of society. Financial assistance programs were already in place to help defendants cover their legal charges prior to this legislation becoming law. This is another example of Democrats finding a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."