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Public defender challenges lawfulness of riot-related detentions

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender says it will challenge in court the lawfulness of Baltimore’s detention of more than 230 individuals arrested during the city’s riots.

The  public defender alleges these people were not presented before a district court commissioner within 24 hours of being taken into custody, as required by Maryland Rules of Procedure, and many have yet to appear before a judicial officer. Many have not been notified of any charges against them or have not been furnished with a copy of the charges, the office said Wednesday afternoon.

OPD added that it will request in Baltimore City Circuit Court immediate release hearings for about 70 individuals the office alleges have been held since Monday without having been served charging documents.

Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson said Wednesday afternoon that delays in processing arrested individuals resulted from the need to get arresting officers back on the street quickly to help quell the riots instead of spending precious time completing charging documents.

The rules call for people arrested to be presented for initial appearances within 24 hours of arrest. But Gov. Larry Hogan signed an order Tuesday under Maryland’s state of emergency law that extended the time for processing to about 48 hours.

The state of emergency statute authorizes the governor to suspend the effect of any laws, regulations or rules, which Nilson said includes procedural rules.

Baltimore has sought to ensure the rights of arrested individuals “as best we can under difficult conditions,” Nilson added.

Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer called the governor’s order a “necessary measure due to the number of arrests made over the last several days and the fact the courts were closed [Tuesday]. It was also done to allow the city to properly prepare the correct and appropriate charging documents.”

David Nitkin, a spokesman for Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, said that “we can’t confirm the substance of discussions between the governor’s office and the office of the attorney general.”

The public defender’s office contends that Hogan lacks authority to suspend the court-created procedural rules regarding presentment.

“More importantly, we challenge the wisdom of suspending justice for arrestees in this time of civil turmoil,” OPD said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “The Judiciary promulgates the Maryland Rules. The Court of Appeals [Maryland’s top court] has not amended or changed the rules that require these important safeguards.”

OPD also called on judges to ensure that the procedural rules and their time limits are followed and that excessive bails are not set during these trying days.

“The courts must not create an appearance of lawlessness at this time, but rather must diligently observe the important safeguards of liberty that are sacred in our society,” OPD stated. “Moreover, we are being told that now that hearings have resumed, the bails that are being imposed on our indigent clients from this impoverished community are prohibitively high. The practice of setting excessive money bail, which only the wealthy could post, is discriminatory.”

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