Courts release 44 inmates

Habeas corpus cases: Since September, the county has been served with 97 suits to release suspects not charged after 48 hours


The release of a Topeka man who was arrested in connection with first-degree murder last week is the first case of its kind for Betsy Gillespie, who became the Shawnee County corrections director in July 2000.

Lamar D. Moss, 23, however, isn’t the only person who was arrested and released from the Shawnee County Jail in the past several months because he was held longer than 48 hours in the jail without being formally charged with any crime.

Judges have required the release of people arrested in 44 cases since Sept. 27, 2001, Gillespie said.

“Most appear to be cases involving drugs, mainly meth,” she said. “Some do involve thefts.”

The people were released based on a civil action called writ of habeas corpus. To prevent a prisoner from being indefinitely detained without being charged, an inmate has the right to file a writ of habeas corpus if he has been in custody for more than 48 hours and prosecutors haven’t filed charges.

Gillespie has been served writ of habeas corpus suits 97 times since September. That includes the 44 cases in which the suspect was released. In 43 cases, the district attorney’s office did file charges, and the suspects remained in jail. Seven of the 97 bonded out before their writs were heard in court, and another three have pending cases.

County counselor Rich Eckert said five habeas corpus cases will go before District Judge Thomas Conklin at 2 p.m. today.

Conklin released Moss from the Shawnee County Jail on Friday because charges hadn’t been filed in the case. Moss, who was arrested four days earlier on Feb. 11, was booked into the Shawnee County Jail in connection with murder in the shooting death of Albert Lee Coleman, 36, on Jan. 8 at his home, 717 S.E. 2nd. Although Moss is free, he can be arrested again and charged in the same case.

Police Chief Ed Klumpp said Monday that detectives were still looking for a specific person from whom the district attorney’s office has instructed police to obtain a statement about Coleman’s slaying.

Attempts to contact District Attorney Robert Hecht on Monday were unsuccessful, and the district attorney’s office was closed in observance of Presidents Day.

Hecht said Friday that charges hadn’t been filed by his office because prosecutors hadn’t received sufficient reports from police to support the filing of charges.

The district attorney’s office earlier had asked police at least twice for particular statements from witnesses, but hadn’t received them, Hecht said.

When asked Friday whether his office was having trouble getting reports about homicide cases from the police department, Hecht said it is always a “struggle” for the police department to get reports produced.

“I surmise that part of that difficulty is a lack of administrative help to get reports typed and being interrupted in the preparation of reports by being assigned to new cases,” Hecht said. “That’s a real struggle.”

Klumpp said Monday there is no question more clerical help would reduce the time crunch on the officers. But detectives have the option of typing their own reports, and a “good share” of detectives do so, he said, rather than dictating their reports onto a tape machine for later transcription by a clerk.

Depending on the complexity of the report, it can be clearer when written by a detective, especially when the officer is preparing affidavits for probable cause arrests or to get a warrant to arrest a suspect, Klumpp said.

While the number of cases is increasing, Gillespie said the jail staff won’t release inmates unless the proper authorities tell them to do so.

“The jail staff has to remain neutral,” she said. “I think we can’t afford to have them make decisions on if a person should or should not be released.”

Having the jail staff make such a decision would create too much potential for abuse on both sides, Gillespie said.

Last week, Hecht called the 48-hour limit that goes along with a writ of habeas corpus a “desirable goal” but said the prosecutor has a “reasonable time” to file charges and that phrase isn’t defined.

But Kris Lawless and Kip Elliot, attorneys representing Moss, said that under state law, charges are to be filed “forthwith,” and case law has defined 48 hours as the time the district attorney has to file charges.

Hecht said he doesn’t require every police report in a murder case to be filed with his office before he files charges, but he does require police to have affidavit information that justifies filing a charge to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

© Copyright 2003 Morris Digital Works and The Topeka Capital-Journal.


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