Governor Murphy Signs Bill Abolishing Public Defender Fees in New Jersey
TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey today signed a ground-breaking bill, A5587/S3771, that abolishes fees, liens, and warrants related to public defender services in the state. This action furthers New Jersey’s reputation for having one of the nation’s most progressive criminal justice systems.
This new law not only annuls public defender fees from now onwards but also applies retroactively. All outstanding costs previously charged to a defendant, any unsettled civil judgments, property liens, and warrants issued due to unpaid balances for public defender services will be eliminated.
Governor Murphy stated, “The right to an attorney should be a universal right for those who are navigating our criminal justice system… The elimination of these fees gives them the chance to defend themselves against charges without worry of their finances.”
This move was first proposed in Governor Murphy’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which suggested removing public defender fees imposed on indigent clients regardless of the verdict. In the past, public defender clients were charged fees starting at $150, escalating based on several factors. The signed Fiscal Year 2024 budget has allocated a total of $4 million to implement this bill.
Furthermore, the budget allows funding for the Parole Revocation Defense Unit and an increase in the rates paid to attorneys assisting the Office of the Public Defender, ensuring residents of limited means can access effective legal defense.
The Wealth Disparity Task Force led the initiative to erase public defender fees. During their listening sessions, the Task Force raised awareness about reentry challenges and wealth-building obstacles affecting Black and Hispanic or Latino New Jerseyans.
Senator Nellie Pou expressed her support for the bill, stating, “This bill serves to ensure that all defendants, including those of limited means, have access to legal services without having to pay burdensome fees.”
Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro added, “By eliminating any costs imposed upon a defendant as well as any unpaid civil judgements or liens, we are giving individuals an opportunity for a fresh start.”
Marleina Ubel, Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), referred to the new law as “a huge win for the people of New Jersey,” moving the constitutional right to an attorney away from a paywall. She further thanked the lawmakers and Governor Murphy for championing and enacting this legislation.
This landmark bill reaffirms New Jersey’s commitment to creating a fairer criminal justice system by eliminating financial barriers to legal representation.