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Those awaiting postponed trials in jail deserve better | READER COMMENTARY

Exterior of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, Circuit Court for Baltimore City. November 12, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Exterior of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, Circuit Court for Baltimore City. November 12, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun) (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

I’m confused. I’m a Baltimore City public defender and my clients can’t get a trial and haven’t been able to do so in a year. It could be nearly two years of pretrial incarceration for some folks by the time courts are, hopefully, up and running in the summer. But that’s speculation. Meanwhile, Baltimore restaurants are resuming indoor dining (”Baltimore to allow indoor and outdoor dining to resume Friday, with one hour time limit for patrons,” Jan. 20).

You can go to the gym. You can gamble, shop locally and get a haircut. Sports fans are pulling for a recently concussed superstar quarterback to jump back into the playoffs and compete in a pandemic riddled playoff game. The NCAA is determined to push through to March Madness despite numerous COVID-19 related cancellations. And we watch. Admittedly, it can be welcome relief. But something is amiss when we can figure out how to hold an inauguration replete with dignitaries, guests and public officials, but we can’t hold trials for folks sitting in jail whom, I remind you, are presumed to be innocent.

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We watched Garth Brooks remove his mask, disregard distancing and hug a handful of people in the crowd including older past presidents. We saw the luminaries like J-Lo and A-Rod side up to the Obamas when we’re told to avoid crowds and that courts are closed. No bother though, as they’ve probably been vaccinated. The vaccination plans for regular people are abysmal.

Local prosecutors and public defenders alike are unsure what to do. My incarcerated clients awaiting court still haven’t been vaccinated as promised. One is in quarantine after testing positive and unreachable. The state is having a tough time figuring out how to inoculate pretrial folks because their stays might not be that long. Really? Trial dates have been getting postponed for the last year.

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As we usher in this supposed new era of social justice, let’s remember that the status quo in 2016 was nothing to be proud of. There is a hierarchy in America and the justice system has always reminded us of that. Now, COVID-19 hits us in the face with it.

Todd Oppenheim, Balitmore

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