Senate OKs bill to keep warrants private Measure would prevent warnings to accused

March 20, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Moving to close a potentially dangerous loophole, the Maryland Senate approved legislation yesterday that would prohibit the public from viewing criminal arrest warrants before they are served on the accused.

The House of Delegates has passed an identical bill, meaning passage is virtually assured.

Sen. Walter M. Baker, head of the Senate committee that considered the legislation, said it was needed to help police officers.

"Our police have a rough enough job without the criminal getting one up on them," said Baker, a Cecil County Democrat.

The legislation, which was proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, was prompted by newspaper articles last fall outlining how some lawyers were using arrest warrants filed in court to solicit potential clients, sometimes before the warrants were served.

In one case in November, a Pennsylvania man received a letter from an attorney telling him he had been charged in a Howard County killing and might need representation, according to police.

After receiving the letter, the man fled before officers could arrest him. He later surrendered.

After the lawyers' practice was publicized, the chief judge of the Maryland District Court blocked computer access to unserved arrest warrants statewide. But supporters of the legislation said it remained necessary to prevent public inspection of the warrants by other means.

News media representatives and other First Amendment advocates opposed the measure, saying it would make it harder for the public to monitor police actions.

If the legislation wins final approval, it will take effect June 1.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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