A woman in Rochelle Park is facing a possible jail sentence that could range from a few months to more than a year.
That piece of news may not seem all that consequential in a state with almost 27,000 prison inmates and another 143,000 criminals on probation.
But the woman in question, Susanna Reinhardt, is 86. She is partially deaf and blind, with a well-documented history in Rochelle Park of making unfounded charges against neighbors and town officials, punctuated by late-night phone calls and disruptions of meetings where she has to be removed by police.
But now authorities say Reinhardt's behavior has taken a worrisome turn. She stands accused of punching Rochelle Park's police chief and smacking him with her cane an aggravated assault offense that could put her behind bars.
Reinhardt's case, now being weighed by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office for possible indictment, would make her one of the oldest criminal defendants in recent New Jersey history. But the fact that Rein-hart is even facing criminal charges at all raises an unwieldy social question about the plight and rights of elderly people who behave erratically:
Is a trial and possible jail sentence the best alternative for a disabled octogenarian who is accused of a serious crime but nevertheless seems completely unsuited for jail?
The municipal judge who has handled a string of local harassment complaints against Reinhart since 2009, and ordered her arrested 12 days ago after she reportedly punched Rochelle Park Police Chief Robert Flannelly in the face and struck him with her cane, concedes he is frustrated.
"I'm running out of options," said Judge Roy F. McGeady, who took the unusual step of speaking about a pending case before trial because of the dilemma he says he faces with an elderly defendant who seems unwilling to respond to his warnings.
"We tried the penal philosophy of increasing penalties for her violations and that did not seem to work," said McGeady, who is also Bergen County's chief municipal judge.
"Putting an 86-year-old disabled woman in jail is not something I want to do," said McGeady, whose previous rulings have included fines and orders that Reinhardt not contact neighbors. "But I would consider it. I have to consider her constitutional rights. But I have to consider the rights of the people of Rochelle Park, too."