Bill To Allow Community Service For Some Offenses

By Phil Gregory, WBGO News
Trenton. November 21, 2012

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Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (photo by Phil Gregory)

Some New Jersey towns say they have had trouble collecting fines for minor crimes.  An Assembly committee has advanced legislation that would give municipal court judges the discretion to order community service instead.

Current law allows municipal judges to consider the community service option only after offenders fail to pay their fines.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Craig Coughlin would give judges the flexibility to consider a person’s financial standing before imposing a penalty.

Coughlin says some people can’t afford to pay the fines and end up spending a weekend or more in jail for minor offenses.

“We don’t have debtors prisons. We shouldn’t put people in jail for a debt.  Let them go off and do something. It’s certainly a punishment, harsh requirements to be there on time to perform all the services. I think it’s a better fairer way of addressing the situation.”

Coughlin is a former prosecutor and municipal judge. He says the measure will also help courts clear a huge backlog of unpaid fines that they’ll never be able to collect.

“So let’s get rid of that. Let’s not do that. Let’s put people out and do something good. Let them clean up the community. Let them eliminate graffiti. Let them do those kind of things.”

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of the legislation.

It’s still awaiting action in the Senate.


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