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New policy cuts loose acquitted defendants on the spot

November 27, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Prisoners acquitted of criminal charges in either Washington County District or Circuit courts are now being released downtown - sometimes still clad in jail jumpsuits.

"The policy was revised as of Nov. 8," said Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades. "It's new and we're concerned about the safety of it but we are monitoring the situation."

Mades said the ruling came down in late October from the Maryland Judicial Council, a conference of Circuit Court judges in the state.

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"They said treating acquitted defendants as prisoners was inappropriate," Mades said.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright said the call for a change in the policy originated with an inquiry from the Maryland Sheriff's Association to the state judicial council.

"The sheriffs were the ones who wanted to have a policy because some counties were doing things differently from others," Wright said.

The judge, a veteran of more than 30 years on the bench, said he agrees that if a person's only charges are removed and nothing else is pending, there is no legal authority to hold that person.

They should be released at that point, Wright said.

"After all, the jail used to be right downtown on Jonathan Street, where they were released then."

But Wright said there are certain aspects to the new policy that concern him.

"If the person is in Washington County property, namely the jail jumpsuit, I don't think it's right to release that person in it," Wright said.

Mades said if a defendant has no other clothes - which is often the case - then the person is released wearing the jumpsuit. If the acquitted defendant is in street clothes, Mades said, the release is a little less complicated.

Mades said deputies take prisoners to and from court appearances in handcuffs and shackles in a van with other prisoners. In the past, defendants acquitted in court and who had no other charges or detainers pending would have to be taken back to the jail in the same fashion - handcuffed and shackled with the "bad guys," Mades said.

"It was a safety issue for our transport deputies," Mades said. "We couldn't have one person not restrained with those who are."

The possibility the acquitted person could ride up front with the deputy wasn't considered to be appropriate either, Mades said. In no instances will acquitted persons be transported with prisoners anymore, he said.

In District Court, 36 W. Antietam St., the official release paperwork is printed out in the courtroom and an acquitted defendant can get his paperwork and walk out the door.

In Washington County Circuit Court, there is no such innovative print-out system in effect, Mades said.

Under jail procedure for Circuit Court, transport officers must sign the transport sheet with a signature and ID number with all details of the release. Judicial deputies will then fax that sheet to the jail booking office so release papers can be prepared, Mades said.

With the new policy, acquitted defendants with property, money or prescription medicine at the Washington County Detention Center will have to find their own transportation to Western Maryland Parkway to get those items and their release paperwork.

"If the acquitted defendant released in a jumpsuit doesn't return it in 30 days, we will keep his stuff," Mades said. And if they return to get their belongings and don't have the jumpsuit anymore, he said they might be charged for it.

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