Public defender says arrestees should be charged or released in five days


Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma County public defender says he will press the county's presiding administrative judge to adopt a policy requiring people to be released within five days of their arrest if they have not been charged with a crime.

For the last seven years, the court has operated under a policy requiring charges or release within 14 days.

It recently had to release 75 inmates who were held longer than two weeks.

Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz requested their release after assigning one of his assistants to scan the jail roster and look for inmates in custody for an extended period without charges.

State law allows individuals arrested without a warrant to be detained for a "reasonable amount of time" before they formally are accused.

Ravitz, Presiding Administrative Judge Niles Jackson and First Assistant District Attorney John Jacobsen will meet to discuss the court's release policy.

Oklahoma City Police Capt. Jessica Cummins said the department wants to know how many of the released prisoners were arrested by its officers.

"These police officers are out there working hard to protect the citizens and to make good arrests," Cummins said. "The detectives work hard interviewing witnesses, victims and also the suspects to file the charges.

"It is unfortunate that all that might be for naught because somebody was left in jail too long, either by a mistake of human error or delay in the process.

"I think it is unfortunate for everyone involved, even for the suspects, because they have a right to bond out or be released in a reasonable amount of time."

Jacobsen said his office is investigating what happened in 10 of the cases in which inmates recently were released.

Cummins and Jacobsen said the five-day policy would not work.

When an arrest is made, the case is assigned to a detective to investigate and prepare paperwork to be turned over to the district attorney. A prosecutor must approve the charges before they are filed with the court clerk.

Jacobsen said officers have been instructed by the district attorney to present their paperwork to prosecutors within 48 hours of an arrest. It generally takes two more days to approve and prepare the charges to be filed.

Since July, Jacobsen said, officers have been required to return to the district attorney's office to sign the prepared paperwork before the formal charge is filed.

Prosecutors initiated the new requirement because of concern that they were signing and swearing to allegations made by the officer without personal knowledge of the facts.

Cummins said the new procedure could result in additional delays if an officer is off work, on vacation or is sick when the charges need to be signed.

Ravitz said a five-day delay is long enough.

"I think most people would be upset about five days," he said.

Jacobsen said the release of prisoners is a public safety issue.

"The fact that one side may want a quick turnaround, it also has to be considered whether an arbitrary time of releasing these people is going to influence the public safety of turning these people loose," Jacobsen said. "So we need a reasonable time to do and file these charges."

Ravitz said he wants an agreement about a shorter release time with the court by Friday, or else next week he'll start filing writs and requesting hearings on inmates he believes should be released. He said he will pursue the case through the Court of Criminal Appeals if necessary.