TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey's attorney general agreed Friday to drop criminal charges involving 86 cases in which defendants claimed they were targets of racial profiling.
The cases involve minority motorists who were stopped and searched by state troopers and later charged with various drug and weapons offenses.
Friday's decision involved 100 defendants charged in 86 cases between 1998 and 2001, said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Attorney General David Samson. Fifty-nine convictions involved people who have either served time, been paroled or will be eligible for parole within a year.
Those convictions will be erased, defense attorneys said.
Appeals court rulings allowed defendants stopped before April 20, 1999, to challenge their cases by saying they were the targets of biased troopers. That was the date New Jersey admitted its troopers practiced racial profiling.
Friday was the deadline for the state to produce more documents detailing how state troopers practiced racial profiling, materials the judge overseeing the cases ordered the state to release.
"It appears they opted to dismiss cases rather than release additional and more damaging discovery," defense attorney William Buckman said.
Those documents included training materials relating to a program that taught motel clerks how to identify drug couriers, Buckman said.
Defense lawyers also wanted records from earlier state police supervisors, including a letter to former Gov. Jim Florio that reportedly detailed racial profiling a decade before it was officially admitted.
In November 2000, former Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. released nearly 100,000 pages of records related to the state police and racial profiling.
Most of those records were requested by defense attorneys representing motorists stopped by state troopers. The criminal attorneys raised racial profiling as a defense, saying the race-based motor vehicle stops violated a driver's constitutional rights. Evidence collected would be inadmissible in court, they argued.
In February 2001, Farmer dropped criminal charges in 77 other cases.
The charges being heard Friday were the remaining cases covered by those court rulings.
"Dismissing these cases is a dangerous and deadly mistake and is yet another insult from this administration against New Jersey's state police," said Ken McClelland, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association.