New Jersey officials want changes to new pretrial system

A bearded man at a podium

Former New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo, file)

The New Jersey attorney general’s office wants to make it easier for judges to detain certain criminal suspects under the state’s new pretrial system.

Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, wrote in a letter to the administrative judge of the New Jersey Judiciary that certain firearms offenses and eluding police should warrant an “automatic recommendation against release” for a defendant awaiting trial.

Under the state’s new pretrial system, criminal defendants are assigned numerical scores that predict whether they will skip a court date or commit another crime if released.

Judges use those scores — as well as arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors — to determine whether a suspect should be released or incarcerated while awaiting trial.

“We’re not asking for automatic detention,” said Honig. “All that our letter seeks is that a recommendation be generated of ‘no release.’ That recommendation is only that — a recommendation.”

Honig also asked for a “no release” recommendation for any defendant who commits additional crimes while out on pretrial release, probation or parole.

Alexander Shalom, a senior staff attorney with the New Jersey ACLU, said he was “disappointed” by Honig’s letter, which cited several actual crimes as support for its proposed changes.

“What we need to do is look at real data to say, ‘Have we been doing this wrong? Are there problems here?'” said Shalom. “But we shouldn’t be making these changes based on anecdotes and hunches.”

In January, New Jersey scrapped its cash bail system in favor of a risk-based method to determine whether a criminal defendant should go to jail or walk free before trial.

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