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New Jersey's highest court is grappling with one of the thorniest issues facing criminal justice today: what to do in cases where witnesses to a crime have been threatened or intimidated by defendants to the point where they refuse to testify in court.

The issue is a pressing one in areas where intimidation by gang members, drug dealers and other defendants is making potential witnesses afraid they or their loved ones will be harmed or killed if they take the stand.

The state Supreme Court in Trenton heard nearly two hours of arguments Monday on a case that deals with what the state Attorney General's Office calls "the greatest threat" to prosecution in gang, organized crime and domestic violence cases.

The state wants to be allowed let jurors hear the out-of-court statements of witnesses who have been threatened without presenting the witnesses themselves.

But defense lawyers argue that would not be fair to defendants, who have the Constitutional right to confront their accusers in court.

Deputy Attorney General Daniel Bornstein told the court he has read numerous media accounts of witnesses being intimidated or threatened around the state.


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