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Quick and Dirty

Court Appointed Monitors

Councilman Reveals Results of Court-Monitoring Project

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/20/2008

On Feb. 4, 1st District City Councilman James Kraft handed fellow council members copies of a yearlong volunteer court monitoring project, telling them that only five of the 470 defendants observed by the project received jail time.

The project, funded by the Abell Foundation and administered through Kraft's office, trained volunteers to observe courtroom behavior, including professionalism by court officers, and to record the outcomes of observed cases. The project covered 470 cases in Baltimore City District Court. Where race was noted, about 81 percent of the defendants were African-American, 16 percent white and 2 percent Hispanic. More than 56 percent of the observed cases were for drug offenses.

More than one-third of the observed cases were postponed, and the most common reason for postponement was that the defendant had failed to get a lawyer. Nearly 20 percent of the postponements were because an arresting officer failed to show up at the hearing.

Besides these postponements, nearly one-third of the remaining cases were placed on the stet docket--meaning they were postponed indefinitely--or dismissed outright.

That leaves just one-third of cases in which defendants were tried and/or sentenced.

According to the report, "the vast majority of sentences involve no additional jail time [beyond time served], [drug] treatment, or other intervention--symptomatic of what has been characterized as `revolving door' justice, in which a chain of encounters with the criminal justice system lead to no remedy to defendant behaviors." Repeat drug offenders observed by the monitors received a 30-day sentence, a 40-day sentence, and, in one case, a one-day sentence.

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