State budget cuts give criminals 1-day breather City prosecutors furloughed for day

November 29, 1991|By Brian Sullam

Criminals worried about being prosecuted for their crimes in Baltimore can rest easy today.

In an effort to accommodate the $400,000 budget cut for this fiscal year, Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms has furloughed his entire staff of prosecutors for the day.

As a result, no arraignments, no plea bargains and no sentences will be meted out in the city's Circuit or District courts.

"We will have just one less day to start, continue or conclude our business," said Mr. Simms.

The day after Thanksgiving, which has been a traditionally light day for the criminal justice system, is one of the six days Mr. Simms selected to furlough his staff.

"We usually did not get a lot of business done on this day," said Mr. Simms. "Last year, you could have shot off a cannon in the hallways of this building [Clarence Mitchell Jr. Courthouse] and not hit anyone."

Judges customarily take off the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday. Only seven of the 25 circuit judges will be on duty, said Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, who is taking the day off himself.

Most of the judges will be handling civil matters, but one will be available to deal with criminal cases involving juveniles.

Police, meanwhile, will be out in force, Mr. Simms said. Special details and operations are expected to result in higher numbers of arrests.

People arrested can appear before bail commissioners, and District Court judges will be able to review bails without prosecutors, he said.

Even though prosecutors have not cleared many criminal cases from the docket on previous days after Thanksgiving, Mr. Simms said the loss of the day backs up an already overcrowded criminal caseload.

"The loss of court days are not helpful. The police will continue to make arrests, and we will have a situation where we are trying to push more individuals through a smaller hole," he said.

Mr. Simms said his office has already had difficulty keeping up with the caseload. He estimated the Circuit Court system will probably handle about 15,000 defendants this year, and the district courts will handle about 90,000 defendants.

The District Court has three judicial vacancies. Mr. Simms said that another Circuit Court judge could help speed defendants through the system.

Under Maryland law, defendants have a right to be tried within 180 days of being charged with a crime.

"What we sorely need are more courts and more judges to handle the press of criminal cases," he said.

Even if the prosecutor's staff had remained on duty, they would not have been able to begin any jury trials because traditionally no jurors have been summoned to the courthouse. Only jury trials already under way would have been conducted today, Judge Kaplan said.

There will be one prosecutor on duty to handle juvenile cases, and that person will be paid. However, any prosecutors who come in today to clear off their desks or work on cases will receive no compensation.

By giving his staff an unpaid holiday, Mr. Simms said his fiscal officer estimates the state's attorney will shave about $36,800 in expenses.

But Mr. Simms cautioned that while there are savings in his office, additional costs will crop up later in other parts of the criminal justice system.

"The costs will spread to the jail, to juvenile services and judges," he said. "It will take the form of another meal for an inmate, another day of hospital care for a defendant, a judge having four or five extra cases on his docket in January. These costs are hard to quantify precisely, but they add up."

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