7 more ordered released from booking center

Like 5 freed earlier, they were detained too long

Law requires hearing in a day

Attorneys say more being held, not charged

April 23, 2005|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Seven more unlawfully detained suspects were ordered set free yesterday from Baltimore's state-run booking center, marking another legal victory for public defenders seeking to force reforms at the facility where detainees are sometimes held for days without being charged.

Despite a state law requiring that suspects be freed or see a court commissioner within 24 hours of arrest, all seven who were ordered freed yesterday had been detained more than a day without a court hearing.

Public defenders said those released were only the detainees for whom they could immediately file legal paperwork. At one point yesterday afternoon, they said, 104 people were being held at the Central Booking and Intake Center in violation of the law.

State corrections officials agreed to yesterday's releases, which were then ordered by city Circuit Judge John M. Glynn. Five others were ordered released on Thursday.

"I'm hoping that there is going to be a broader recognition of the problem and the agencies involved are going to come to the table with a renewed interest in resolving this quickly," said Natalie Finegar, the chief attorney at Central Booking for the Office of the Public Defender.

Next week, public defenders plan to argue that Glynn should compel the state to automatically release after 24 hours any suspect who has not seen a court commissioner. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Many law enforcement officials have recently complained that the process used to book arrestees at the overcrowded Central Booking center has broken down. Suspects arrested in the city are taken to the decade-old facility, where prosecutors decide whether to press charges, suspects get defense attorneys, and judges and court commissioners decide whom to release.

The suspects ordered released yesterday had been arrested by police seeking various charges, Finegar said. One had been arrested for disorderly conduct and was held for 38 hours. Another had been arrested for possession of marijuana and was held 42 hours. A third had been arrested for drug possession and was held 48 hours.

Police could rearrest the suspects, public defenders said.

It's possible for a suspect arrested on a serious charge to be delayed at Central Booking, but public defenders have said that it is typically those accused of minor crimes who get caught in the gridlock.

Commissioner William J. Smith of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services said he is hoping for a solution.

"I just need people to understand that we are the custodians," he said. "There is no vested interest for us to hold people. We want people out of here."

Corrections officials say the facility wasn't built to handle the nearly 100,000 people arrested each year by the city police.

Prosecutors say police are making unneeded arrests that clog the system. They point to the fact that they decline to prosecute 30 percent of people arrested, not including those picked up on warrants, because either there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction or the time the suspect has served in jail is sufficient.

Police say the inefficient assembly-line process often leaves them waiting with suspects for hours outside Central Booking. A city district judge recently wrote that many share in the blame.

Police had been responding to complaints that they make too many arrests -- particularly allegations that many of the arrests are unneeded -- by stating that they had arrested 30 percent fewer suspects this year than in the same period last year.

But yesterday, police released updated figures showing that they have arrested 11 percent fewer people than they had at the same point last year.

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