House panel OKs change in appeal law

March 27, 2004|By Andrea Siegel | Andrea Siegel,SUN STAFF

A House of Delegates committee passed a bill last night that would change the law that requires a judge to free a defendant - even when charged with murder - when prosecutors make a pretrial appeal.

If approved, the bill would let judges decide whether to jail or release a defendant while awaiting the result of an appeal.

But the House Judiciary committee removed a provision that would have allowed the case to proceed if the appeal failed, said Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Under current law, if prosecutors lose the pretrial appeal, the case is automatically dismissed and can never be reinstated. State's attorneys consider that penalty draconian and would like to be able to prosecute the case - just without whatever evidence was thrown out.

The amended bill goes to the House floor for a vote within the next few days.

The "Griffin bill" was named after Straughan Lee Griffin, a businessman who was shot and run over by carjackers in front of his home in Annapolis' historic district in September 2002.

Two teen-agers were charged in 2002 with murder in Griffin's slaying and jailed. But last year, attorneys for the suspects persuaded Anne Arundel County Circuit judges to throw out statements in which the two incriminated themselves.

Prosecutors appealed. But under state law, their appeals triggered the automatic release of Terrence Tolbert and Leeander Jerome Blake. The Court of Appeals reinstated Tolbert's confession. He is scheduled for a trial this year. Blake is in jail awaiting the outcome of a high court appeal that will determine if he goes to trial.

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