Baltimore Courts Jail Several Witnesses Weekly


In Baltimore, where cooperative witnesses are sometimes killed, prosecutors each week get three to five “body attachment writs” allowing them to arrest witnesses who have skipped court dates, the Washington Post reports. Within three days, the witnesses must come before a judge, who then can order them held or set conditions for their release. Generally, witnesses are held no longer than several days, a few weeks at most. The city’s top prosecutor, State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, says, “I would rather not [jail witnesses], but we need to get justice for our victims and we need to get justice for our community, so we do what we have to do,” she said. “It’s not always pretty.”

Richard Finci, former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association, has “major constitutional concerns” about holding witnesses for months at a time and about the tactic of detaining witnesses generally. “I think it’s used too often to pressure witnesses into giving a version of events that favors the government,” he said. “Even if a witness is not being directly told that their release is subject to their testimony and cooperation, they’re being trained full well to know that if they don’t satisfy the government, they’re not going anywhere.” Many witnesses, even shooting victims who were talkative when they were bleeding on the ground, would simply vanish if they were not jailed, Batlimore prosecutors said. Said Baltimore Circuit Judge John Glynn: “That’s what happens at a place that has the depths of criminal problems this place does. On the street, the criminals have more power on a day-to-day basis than the police.”


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