Courts to hold magistrate hearings for jailed defendants in mornings and afternoons

Attorney General Douglas Moylan

The attorney general of Guam has convinced the judiciary to expand its magistrate court services as a temporary solution to a growing problem: the numbers of criminal defendants being charged, and the capacity of the criminal justice system to charge them within statutory deadlines.

Guam law says the government has 48 hours to bring an arrested person before a (magistrate) judge, otherwise that person must be released from jail. “Because the Magistrates continue to only conduct hearings in the afternoons (3:00 p.m.), the 48 hours often expires by the morning of the following day, requiring that we charge and have that detainee in front of the Magistrate in 24 hours by the set 3:00 p.m. hearing, or the detainee must be released,” Douglas Moylan on Tuesday wrote in a letter to administrator of the courts Danielle Rosete. He wrote the letter to request that the courts provide both a morning and afternoon magistrates court schedule.

She replied Friday:

“While this request departs from the court’s longstanding practice, the Judiciary recognizes the importance of ensuring the timely filing of criminal charges. No judicial officer desires to risk the release of a potentially dangerous detainee because of a delayed filing by the Office of the Attorney General.

“As an interim measure, the magistrates have been instructed to conduct morning hearings, upon the Attorney General’s advanced written request to the Superior Court Clerk of Court.”

Mr. Moylan’s Tuesday letter followed two similar requests last year, and the release of four criminal defendants from jail following a failure to charge them within the 48-hour period this past weekend. One of the defendants was arrested for vehicular homicide.

According to the AG, the four defendants were arrested Saturday morning by Guam Police Department officers. Among the four, the Office of the Attorney General of Guam either did not receive police reports, or notifications of their custody at the Department of Corrections, according to the AG.

The situation is more systemic, however, according to Mr. Moylan’s letter. The continuing lack of law enforcement officers and prosecutors has conspired to make the charging process a race to the 48-hour deadline.

“The dire situation we continue facing is that because the police reports oftentimes take time to review, that we are unable to effectively process all detainees within 24 hours . . . in the (mad) scramble between 8 a.m. and the Court’s filing deadline by 1:00 p.m.,” Mr. Moylan wrote to Ms. Rosete. “The Guam Police Departments’ officers are faced with daily situations that involve investigating violent and non-violent crimes, including meth addicts, and make the decision to arrest at all hours of the day. After the arrest they are required to prepare a police report that takes time, and which is the basis upon which the People of Guam’s prosecutors must determine if defendants should be charged and the charging documents properly drafted and filed. The decision to charge can mean the difference between a crime victim being safe or the crime victim being victimized again, and potentially injured or killed when they are not charged and released back into the community. This also includes a detainee being released to victimize and create another crime victim without a case being filed.”

The attorney general simultaneously wrote to the speaker of the legislature asking senators to consider extending the deadline to bring a jailed defendant before the court to 72 hours.

Most states and territories require criminal defendants to be brought before a judge for “first appearance” within 24 hours, 48 hours, or “without unnecessary delay,” once arrested. Georgia and Louisiana allow for a 72-hour deadline. This is according to information provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures on its website.

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