- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2003

BALTIMORE — The report begins with bold letters “Crisis in the court,” and it describes a backlog of thousands of indictments awaiting trial in Baltimore.

“Dilemma intolerable,” a subheading in the state’s attorney’s report from the late 1960s declares. Though heavy criminal caseloads are not uncommon in Baltimore, a recent spike in felony drug cases has city prosecutors more worried than usual.

The cases are so numerous that the state’s attorney’s office has exhausted available time slots to schedule arraignments for felony narcotics cases, said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy.

More than 100 suspects have yet to be scheduled, and prosecutors are working with the court to find time, Miss Burns said.

Police say a reorganization in the police department’s narcotics division has led to the increased drug arrests.

Circuit Court Administrative Judge Ellen Heller, who found the 1960s report on the state’s attorney’s office while cleaning out her desk recently, said Baltimore has been burdened with heavy caseloads for years. Still, the recent change has local officials talking about how they will handle rising drug arrests.

“It’s there, and our challenge is to find a way to make sure we process these cases and, at the same time, we do it with due process … and that is a challenge for all of the criminal justice agencies in Baltimore city, which are already short staffed,” Judge Heller said.

The state’s attorney’s office has 16 prosecutors in its felony narcotics unit. Miss Burns said the state’s attorney’s office is requesting more resources to handle the added legal work.

“One of the concerns that we have now is to carefully review and anticipate what problems can arise as a result of this bulge in narcotics prosecutions,” Miss Burns said.

On Monday, Judge Heller met with representatives from Mayor Martin O’Malley’s office, the state’s attorney’s office and the police department to discuss the increase in drug cases coming into court.

The city’s criminal justice agencies are meeting almost daily to come up with a recommendation to provide the necessary legal resources to handle the caseloads, Miss Burns said yesterday.

Felony drug cases doubled in July to 467, compared to 233 in the same month last year, according to the state’s attorney’s office. In August, they more than doubled to 527 grand jury indictments, compared to just 193 in August 2002. In September, the cases grew even more quickly — 632 compared to 193 last year.

“They are making better cases out of the arrests that they have, more indictments, better cases,” police spokesman Matt Jablow said.

Prosecutors are saddled with as many as 300 cases, Miss Burns said.

“Supervisors are very concerned that a caseload of over 300 is not a manageable caseload, so we’re in the process of requesting more resources to help us do the best job we can with these types of caseloads,” Miss Burns said.


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