21 detainees released from Central Booking

Judge's order on timely hearings forced move

4 exemptions granted


News from around the Baltimore region

April 27, 2005|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A court order forced the release of at least 21 suspects from the Central Booking and Intake Center yesterday, the first full day since a judge warned that state corrections officials could be held in contempt if anyone was held more than 24 hours without a court hearing.

The group of 21 suspects was set free yesterday morning from the downtown facility because they hadn't seen a court commissioner within 24 hours of arrest, said Commissioner William J. Smith of the state Division of Pretrial Detention and Services. He said he did not know how many were released the rest of the day.

"We're paying as much attention to time as we possibly can," Smith said. "I'm not going to be held in contempt of court."

Circuit Judge John M. Glynn's order Monday gave new teeth to a state law requiring that suspects be freed or see a court commissioner within 24 hours of arrest. It came after Baltimore police, prosecutors, judges and jail officials failed to resolve the problem during months of debate.

All sides have blamed the others for letting people arrested on minor charges linger behind bars for hours and days without seeing a court commissioner or even being formally charged.

Public defenders, who sought the temporary order, said they hoped it would give new urgency to talks aimed at speeding up the criminal justice process housed at the state-run facility.

Police, prosecutors and judges are scheduled to meet this morning with state corrections Secretary Mary Ann Saar to present a list of suggestions and discuss fixes.

"My hope," said District Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey of Baltimore, "is that working together, all of the agencies that have a stake in this issue are able to cooperatively come up with a solution that will ensure that people are processed quickly as the law envisions."

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.

Some suspects who walked out of the facility yesterday said they knew of the order, but they weren't sure whether it resulted in their release. Suspects released because of the order can be rearrested on the same charges.

The temporary order prompting the releases will remain in effect until May 6, when Glynn is scheduled to preside over another hearing in the class action lawsuit brought by unlawfully detained suspects against the Central Booking warden.

Smith said he requested exceptions yesterday for four suspects whom he didn't want to release because of the seriousness of charges police were seeking against them. One was facing armed-robbery charges, Smith said. All remained at the facility, he said.

Public defenders said they were closely monitoring public safety workers.

"We put them on notice that it seemed like there were wrinkles," said Natalie Finegar, an assistant public defender, "and they said they were getting on top of it."

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