Public Defender: Justice system strained by riot arrests

Public defender: “We're going to have to ramp up the other parts of the system.”

The front end of Baltimore's justice system was struggling to cope with the sheer number of people arrested in connection with Monday's rioting, a senior public defender said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that 202 people had been arrested in violence that swept across the city.

About 235 people were waiting to be processed at the jail shortly before noon on Tuesday, said Natalie Finegar, the deputy public defender for Baltimore — although not all of them were connected to the riots. Police had not filed charging papers for most of them, she said.

While the riots broke out after police confronted school students around Mondawmin Mall, only a small minority of the people arrested were juveniles, state officials said.

The Department of Juvenile Services said it was handling about 20 cases connected to the rioting, and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which handles juveniles charged as adults, said three children were booked into the city jail.

Anyone arrested in Baltimore is taken to Central Booking to have their bail set. It can be a two stage process involving a visit with a court commissioner and — if the person is not released or cannot post bail — a later hearing before a judge. The city courts were closed Tuesday so no judges were working.

Finegar said it was important that if people are being charged with lawlessness the justice system has to set an example of good order.

"This may be unprecedented but we still have rules that need to be followed," she said. If the police make mass arrests, she said, "We're going to have to ramp up the other parts of the system."

Police charged 35 people after violence broke out Saturday following a day of mostly peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured during an arrest. Most of those people were either released or posted bail but seven remain jailed, according to court records.

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