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R2-D2
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The Honorable R2-D2 is in session

Automation might be good in most cases but when it comes to making bail decisions, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin isn’t a fan.

Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is leading the charge against a so-called “bridge proposal” that would allow legislators to phase-in use of an automated risk assessment tool that would be used for setting bond for defendants.

Zirkin pitched his proposal (subscriber access) during a closed-door meeting of a House of Delegates-Senate work group on the issue.

Sen. Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

“You can forget about bridge proposals,” Zirkin said. “What bridge says to me is that you have something so good on the other side that you just have to get there. What they have on the other side is a robot making determinations that right now are being done by a judicial officer.”

“The Court of Appeals didn’t tell us to use a computer,” he said.

The so-called bridge proposal, favored by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais,(subscriber access) D-Montgomery, and others would establish a non-discretionary pre-trial release program in immediate response to the Court of Appeals decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond.

That would buy the General Assembly time to come back in 2015 to craft legislation that would adopt a risk assessment tool that would effectively eliminate court commissioners from the bail process and set a three-tiered system of offenders—those who can be released unconditionally, those released with some kind of condition or supervision and those who are ineligible for release.

The system is similar to a recommendation made last year by a legislative task force convened on the issue. The program is used in a small number of areas in Kentucky

“It’s not in 50 states. It’s no where,” Zirkin said. “Our criminal justice system isn’t a social experiment. We shouldn’t be experimenting just cause some group thinks it’s a good idea.”

Zirkin said the idea of turning over decisions regarding which defendants are released and which are held to a computer “is a radical idea.”

“All rise, the Honorable R2-D2 is now in session,” Zirkin said. “That just sounds crazy to me.”

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