BALTIMORE — On a recent Monday afternoon in Baltimore, Judge Devy Patterson Russell decided the fate — for now, at least — of 12 defendants she could barely even see.
None were in her courtroom on Wabash Avenue, but all were on her docket. They sat in the Baltimore City jail about 6 miles away on Greenmount Avenue and appeared on a video screen mounted high on a wall.
The shackled inmates, all in yellow prison jumpsuits, sat cramped in a small room, behind a pane of glass that made their images even more hazy.
This is bail review in Baltimore, where the judge may spend as little as a minute or two on any of the inmates. She decides which defendants can go home tonight, and which will remain locked up until trial.
By the time they get to bail review, the defendants have almost always spent at least one night in the city jail. Before the hearing began, the defendants were shown a video advising them of their rights.
Their lawyers, most of them public defenders, were sitting in the courtroom, ready to make their cases to the judge.
When a defendant is called, a pretrial officer, who is with the arrestees but off camera, reads off some facts: the defendant’s age, his level of education, how long he’s lived at his address and who lives there with him, his job and whether he’s ever failed to appear for trial.
On this day, the most serious crime among the 12 defendants was second-degree assault. But some had failed to appear for previous trials, or they had histories of violent crimes. They would not fare very well at this hearing.
The first defendant, a 74-year-old retiree, got into a fight at his home and was charged with second-degree assault. The retiree, who had never been convicted of a crime, was released on his own recognizance.
There was a forklift operator charged with second-degree assault who has past convictions for drug possession. He lives with his aunt, has children in Baltimore and is not deemed a flight risk. He was released on his own recognizance.
Then, there was a 27-year-old who had failed to appear for trial seven times earlier — all for cases involving traffic violations. He couldn’t appear at the trial because he was jailed at the time on other charges. When he had appeared before a court commissioner a day or two earlier, the commissioner refused to set bail. But, the judge agreed to let him go on a $3,500 unsecured bond, meaning that the defendant will need to pay this amount if he fails to appear at his trial.
After 45 minutes, the bail review was over. Of the 12 defendants who appeared before the judge, only three had their bail remain the same. Most of the defendants that day were released to await trial, but not all. Those who were deemed flight risks, or those who had repeatedly failed to appear for previous trials were sent back to be locked up.