Civil Liberties

Baltimore Protesters Get out of Jail Free After Police Miss Deadline for Filing Charges

More than 100 released after public defender's office files habeas corpus petitions.


OPD Baltimore/Flickr

Many people detained in conjunction with Monday's protests and riots were released without charges Wednesday evening, after Baltimore police failed to file necessary paperwork in time. According to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender (OPD), 101 people were released.

A little more than 200 people had been arrested Monday, according to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Anyone arrested in Baltimore gets taken to the Central Booking & Intake Center to have formal charges filed against them, meet with a district court commissioner, and have bail set.

On Tuesday, the OPD filed habeas corpus petitions for individuals detained Monday, demanding they be released if no formal charges were brought within the next 24 hours. Mass arrests might strain police and prosecutorial resources, but "we still have rules that need to be followed," public defender Natalie Finegar told the Baltimore Sun.

"The courts must not create an appearance of lawlessness at this time," OPD said in a statement, "but rather they must dilligently observe the important safeguards to liberty that are sacred in our society." 

As of Wednesday afternoon, many of those taken into custody on Monday had not been notified of charges filed against them, nor had they appeared before a judicial officer or court commissioner as required under Maryland law. Typically this must take place within 24 hours, but Gov. Larry Hogan signed an emergency order Tuesday extending the allowable processing period to 48 hours—a deadline the city still failed to meet.

"We've come up on a timeline,"  Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told reporters yesterday. However, Batts said, the department was keeping "future prosecution in mind" and "not giving up on" filing charges against those released.

Meanwhile, Batts announced that the department's internal report on Freddie Gray, who died in police custody earlier this month, would not be made public on Friday as planned.