Monday, February 22, 2010

Smith & Grimes Revisited

originally published September 2, 2008

For those who may have been on vacation last week or who don’t read the Baltimore Sun, Demetrius Smith was arrested again last week. This time he is charged with shooting a 56-year old man in the leg while robbing him on the street where Smith lives. The good news is that he is finally being held without bail.

Smith is the man charged with first degree murder that Judge Nathan Braverman allowed to go free on bail in early July. See Judge Nathan Braverman. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is now calling for Judge Braverman to be removed from conducting bail reviews.

The Sun quoted Chief Judge Ben Clyburn as saying that judges have "very broad discretion in determining bail." This is true, though they have rules (which are cited in the article Judge Braverman II) to guide them and a law passed by the people of Maryland to follow: that when a crime is so serious that the law requires a bail commissioner to hold a defendant without bail, there is a presumption that the defendant "will flee and pose a danger to another person or the community." Judge Braverman never said how Smith rebutted this presumption.

Below are just a few additional examples from the past several years as to how Judge Braverman exercises his broad discretion. There are plenty more. As to the FOP’s call for his removal from bail reviews, I will offer my view next week.

In another event of interest, Brandon Grimes, one of the subjects of Baltimore’s Failed War Room, was convicted of first-degree murder last Friday in the killing of off-duty police officer Troy Chesley in 2007. Congratulations to Kevin Wiggins, the prosecutor, and to the police detectives who put the evidence together, evidence so strong the jury was out just a few hours before pronouncing Grimes guilty. It is comforting to know this killer will be off the street for a very long time.

But while State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy basks in the glow of the conviction, what comfort does she take in the fact that she made no effort to prevent Grimes from being free to murder in the first place? No effort to revoke the bail that Grimes was on for a handgun arrest when he was arrested with another gun, and then for assault, and then for burglary? No effort despite the fact that Grimes was a designated War Room offender for whom the citizens of this state give her additional resources to focus upon?

When her War Room funding comes up for renewal in the next legislative session, it will be interesting to see whether our legislators demand any more information from her on her efforts than she has been willing to release so far.

More Braverman Bail Decisions

The examples below describe what the police report alleged:

2005: Defendant sodomized his 15 year old daughter. The commissioner set a $250,000 bail. The prosecutor at bail review asked for "no bail," telling Judge Braverman that the Baltimore Police had been trying to extradite the defendant from South Carolina but were able to arrest him instead when he returned temporarily for a funeral. In response to a question from Judge Braverman the prosecutor also revealed that the defendant had been charged with child abuse and rape in 1990, though the charges had been dropped. Judge Braverman lowered the bail to $150,000.

A victim ran at a police officer screaming "He’s got a gun, he just robbed me with a gun!" pointing to the defendant who was in a car. Police found a BB gun under the seat of the defendant’s car, which had Virginia tags. The commissioner held the defendant without bail because the defendant had a prior conviction for armed robbery (including a probation violation) and the law required no bail at this stage (and the rebuttable presumption that he was a threat to public safety.) He also had been convicted for assault and theft charges that had originally been charged as carjacking and handgun offenses. Judge Braverman changed the "no bail" status to $5,000 cash.

Defendant pointed a gun in the victims face demanding to know where "his" money was. When she denied knowledge of it he searched her in front of others in the house (including children,) slapped her, and said she better have it when he returned in 10 minutes. He was already out on a $10,000 bail for drug distribution and resisting arrest. Commissioner set "no bail," and the pretrial agent and prosecutor agreed. Judge Braverman lowered the bail to $2500 cash.

2006: Defendant was one of three co-defendants who robbed a store at gunpoint. The crime was captured on video and the defendant confessed. He was 17 at the time, on juvenile probation for stealing a car and was pending another car theft case. The commissioner set a $500,000 bail. Judge Braverman reduced the bail to $75,000 at 10%, meaning the defendant could put up $7,500 to go free.

Defendant fought with two women in the parking lot of a gas station. He then went into the gas station and stuck a gun into the chest of the attendant and said "Don’t say shit!" The commissioner set a $50,000 bail and the defense lawyer asked for $25,000. Judge Braverman did better than that, lowering it to $1500 cash. The inmates at bail review that day were thanking Judge Braverman and wishing him a Merry Christmas.

2007: A couple went into a car and the defendant walked in front of it shooting at them multiple times, leaving bullet holes in the metal, seats and glass. He was on probation for drug dealing with a pending warrant for violating probation, had a pending attempted drug dealing case, and was on juvenile parole for drug-dealing. The defendant was not represented at the bail review, but Judge Braverman wanted to know why it took the police two months to charge the defendant. The prosecutor replied that since the victims reported it promptly, it must be how long it took them to identify the suspect. Judge Braverman decided that meant it must not be a very strong case. He said he would "reluctantly" have to err on the side of caution and keep it no bail, but that the State had better be prepared with more facts when the defendant filed for another review of the bail.

Defendant arrived at his ex-girlfriend’s house drunk, yelling and screaming. He refused to leave, yelling that he had knives and was going to kill her. She barricaded herself in her bedroom and called 911. He kicked a big hole in her door but left when he heard her calling the police. Defendant had been convicted of assault and drug charges in the past, and also had been charged with violating an ex parte order (which are used to keep people from harassing and abusing others.) The commissioner set $100,000, and the prosecutor and pretrial agent concurred. Judge Braverman set $500 cash ("to cover the damage to the door") and told the defendant to stay away from the victim or he would hold him no bail. (This completely empty threat is a favorite of Judge Braverman’s when he lowers the bail for those charged with domestic violence.)

Defendant beat his girlfriend with a shovel and stomped on her ankle, resulting in her ankle being fractured in three places, two teeth knocked loose, and her body covered in bruises. Defendant was on parole for drug distribution and also had been convicted of attempted armed robbery, making this case a mandatory "no bail" case for the commissioner. Judge Braverman reduced the bail to $5,000 cash.

Defendant was a target of the police for drug dealing. After surveillance of his activities police got a search warrant and found a sawed-off rifle, a handgun, a scale with cocaine residue, and marijuana packaging material in his bedroom. He had paperwork in his name in that bedroom and a woman identifying herself as his mother said it was his bedroom. The commissioner set $300,000 bail. Judge Braverman lowered it to $50,000 at 10% meaning the defendant could put up $5,000 to get out.

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