Hear No Evil, See No Evil

April 03, 1995

When Carroll County residents heard that Charles Bernard Thomas Jr. had been arrested for the savage stabbing of his girlfriend last Tuesday, a week after being released from the detention center on an unsecured bond on earlier assault charges, they immediately blamed District Court Judge Donald M. Smith. This was another example of a lenient judiciary "coddling" criminals, they said.

They were wrong.

As reported by The Sun's Darren Allen last week, court transcripts show that at the March 20 bail review, prosecutors failed to inform Judge Smith of Mr. Thomas' 30-year criminal record -- which included convictions for manslaughter, burglary and grand theft. Mr. Thomas was being charged with the Jan. 28 assault and kidnapping of his girlfriend.

The tape recording of the hearing shows that Assistant State's Attorney Shawn Larson raised no objections when the bail was lowered from $30,000 to a $5,000 unsecured bond. Asked by Judge Smith if the state wanted to be heard, Mr. Larson's response was: "No, your honor."

Even had Judge Smith been made aware of Mr. Thomas' extensive criminal past, he may not have set a high bail. Bail guarantees that a defendant shows up for trial; it's not meant to exact punishment for the crime. Mr. Thomas had no history of failing to appear and had lived at the same address for a long time. These factors worked against setting a high bail.

Perhaps Judge Smith would have ordered more stringent conditions upon hearing the history of Mr. Thomas and his girlfriend as chronicled in the charging documents. But the prosecutor didn't say a word. Judges are not clairvoyants who can read people's minds, or soothsayers who can predict the future. They are fallible human beings who make decisions based on the information before them.

For years, Carroll's state's attorney's office has followed a pattern of talking tough about crime on the stump, then failing to properly execute the job of prosecuting criminals in court. Carroll residents rightly expect to have competent prosecutors protecting their safety.

In this case, the prosecutors shortchanged Judge Smith by not providing him with all the relevant facts. It was not the judge who failed to carry out his duties, it was the prosecutors.

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