Crime scenes: I'll see your bail review and raise you $150,000

Judge grants defendant right to be heard, then raises bail

October 23, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

We all know that justice can be slow.

It can also be fast.

So fast, in fact, that the very person whose fate is being decided barely has time to be heard.

All William J. Campbell wanted was a fair bail hearing at the District Court in downtown Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center. Appearing last week, he raised a fuss at the proceeding and was given a chance to speak, only to have the judge triple his bail.

All without a lawyer standing up for him

He's now locked away until at least Nov. 17, the date of his next court appearance, by which time he'll either have hired a lawyer or gotten help from the public defender's office.

Earlier this month, Baltimore Circuit Judge Alfred A. Nance ruled that Maryland's anachronistic system that emphasizes speed over fairness needs reform. He ruled that a defendant should have the right to a lawyer at the very first bail review with a district court commissioner.

"This Court finds any stage that could result in a finding that would place the defendant in jeopardy of loss of liberty or being confined, the defendant is entitled to counsel, and proceeding with the matter after representation is requested to be a violation of due process," Nance wrote.

"The rule is not mere formalism," the judge continued, "but a recognition of the point at which the government has committed itself to prosecute … and the accused finds himself faced with the prosecutorial forces of organized society, and immersed in the intricacies of substantive and procedural criminal law."

The words sound great until you watch how the "prosecutorial forces of organized society" actually work. A bail hearing in District Court is more like a scrum.

Baltimore Police Officer Donyell M. Briggs charged Campbell on Oct. 16 with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and making a false statement to an officer. Police brought him to a District Court commissioner, who set his bail at $35,000.

He couldn't afford to pay the bail.

Campbell had the unfortunate timing of allegedly committing his misdeeds early on a Saturday. Despite operating in one of the most violent cities in the nation, our courts are open only as often as a bank, which means people arrested from Friday afternoon on and who can't make the initial bail are jailed until at least Monday.

Don't ever get arrested on a three-day weekend.

And remember, you aren't entitled to a lawyer at your first bail review (the state is considering appealing Nance's ruling, and it has been stayed until then).

So Campbell lingered at Central Booking until Monday morning, when he was lucky enough to be among the first to see the judge.

Here, in theory, Campbell is represented by a public defender. But one defense attorney "represents" many defendants in rapid-fire hearings that go by in a blur. The public defender might have talked with a client a few minutes before the hearing, or even in the courtroom while he is shackled to other defendants, or not at all.

Campbell said in court that he got the "not at all."

My colleague Justin Fenton, the Baltimore Sun's police reporter, was in the courtroom for a hearing for the man charged with killing a city police officer last Saturday. Campbell, sitting nearby, turned to an attorney sitting in the gallery and whispered that he didn't have a lawyer.

"You can ask for a postponement then," the lawyer advised.

Fenton relayed the rest:

When Campbell's name was called, he stood up, and a pretrial services representative said his bail set by the commissioner was $35,000. She described his previous arrest record, and the prosecutor asked for the bail to be increased. The public defender did not stand or say a word.

District Judge Charles A. Chiapparelli upped bail to $50,000 and moved on to the next case.

Campbell protested. He hadn't been offered an opportunity to address the court. He had been jailed for days and he said no one from the public defender's office had visited him. The judge told him there would be time for that later.

The judge ordered him to sit.

Campbell refused.

"Take me out," he said to the guards.

There was a commotion.

Chiapparelli finally asked Campbell if he wanted to represent himself, and he warned him that he shouldn't discuss the facts of the case.

The private attorney leaned over to Fenton and told him, "He's going to get no bail. Watch."

Campbell explained that he just "got out" of jail and that he has three young children. He said he can't afford $50,000, especially on a charge without merit (without lawyers, defendants seem to never understand the judge's warning to not talk about their cases at this stage).

"My kids are 4, 2 and 1," Campbell said.

"You have a 1 year old?" Chiapparelli asked. "Bail set at $150,000."

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