Courtrooms Full, Charges Dropped
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Murder charges were dismissed against four defendants because their trial was postponed repeatedly, often because no courtroom space was available.
``Vengeance is not mine,″ said retired schoolteacher Mamie Suggs, whose only child, 21-year-old Shawn L. Suggs, was killed in October 1995. ``I can’t do one thing to them.″
Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown ordered the cases dismissed on Tuesday because the trial of the four had been delayed for three years, so long it ``boggles the imagination.″
Prosecutors said they are considering appealing Tuesday’s ruling, which dropped charges against Donte Spivey, 22; William Harrison, 21; Stacey Wilson, 29; and Jay Anderson, 30. They were accused of ambushing Suggs and shooting him to death.
The trials of the four were postponed 12 times after their speedy trial deadline had passed. Trials are supposed to be held within six months of a defendant’s first court appearance. Six times, a court was unavailable, and in the other six instances, defense attorneys, prosecutors or witnesses were unavailable.
Brown’s ruling was based on a recent decision by the state Court of Special Appeals, which threw out the sex crime conviction of a man because his case had been postponed nine times for lack of a courtroom.
``The circuit courts may not avoid (speedy trial) requirements by assigning trial dates that have no practical meaning,″ said the ruling by the court, the state’s second highest. ``The serial postponements of trial due to the unavailability of the court is the equivalent of the failure to assign any trial date.″
How many other cases could be affected by the ruling was not immediately clear, said Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell, the administrative judge for the criminal docket.
``It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the possibilities are,″ Mitchell said.
The court system currently has a backlog of more than 5,500 criminal cases, and 43 percent of cases heard in the first 10 months of 1998 in Baltimore were postponed.
Deputy State’s Attorney Haven Kodeck said the dismissal highlights the need for additional funds for the court system, but his office will also do what it can to tighten procedures and speed up the handling of cases.