Multnomah County Presiding Judge Changes Pretrial Release Standards, Giving Judges More Discretion to Hold Defendants

A judge can now hold a defendant accused of a property crime until arraignment if it’s a third related offense.

IMG_7845 Mike Schmidt. (Wesley Lapointe) (Wesley Lapointe)

Starting June 1, Multnomah County will keep adult defendants that have been convicted of, or have pending cases related to, three or more property-related crimes in jail until arraignment.

That’s because Presiding Judge Judith Matarazzo signed an order May 22 that changed the county’s policy on holding repeat offenders until they face a judge. The order supersedes an earlier policy established following the passage of Senate Bill 48, which ordered local courts to adopt a set of statewide guidelines and create a list of overriding circumstances.

That policy had to be rewritten because the county is shifting to a new risk assessment tool in June that will evaluate appropriate release conditions for defendants. According to its designers, the new Public Safety Assessment results in more people being released and less use of bail—while not increasing the likelihood of someone reoffending or skipping a court date.

But the new policy also introduces a few more “overriding circumstances” in which a defendant may be kept behind bars.

The order will “allow judges more flexibility in making pretrial release decisions,” Matarazzo tells WW. “It allows for overriding circumstances that will allow people to be held in custody pending a hearing in front of a judge as opposed to being released under the terms of Senate Bill 48,” Matarazzo says. “Both the [district attorney’s] office and the Defense Bar had input.”

Matarazzo’s order is the first time the county has changed its pretrial release standards since first laying them out after the law went into effect. It’s also a soft admission that the pretrial release standards created by the law were perhaps too lenient.

Shoplifting, which would be covered under this new exception, has proven particularly problematic for Portland businesses in recent years. The city and county announced the joint funding of a task force within the Multnomah District Attorney’s Office to crack down on the problem earlier this month.

This won’t be the first time state policymakers have had to reexamine the guidelines instituted in the wake of Senate Bill 48. The state went back to the drawing board last year to review pretrial release of people accused of bias crimes, following a high profile attack on Portland’s Eastbank Esplanade.

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