ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers and judges are investigating pre-trial home monitoring procedures after two Baltimore District Court defendants went unsupervised and ended up as fugitive murder suspects.
The incident revealed that no statewide system exists to ensure defendants are registered for private home monitoring before leaving court, and that system failing has put the public at risk, lawmakers said.
Private home monitoring tracks an individual’s movements from his or her own home, usually by an electronic anklet linked to a phone line by a sensor. If the defendant deviates from a schedule — leaving for work, for example, before a pre-planned time — the monitoring company is alerted, judges and private home monitoring companies said.
In the recent Baltimore City case, Kevin Dorsey was charged with attempted first-degree murder and Dennis Bowers faced charges of illegal gun possession and the court ordered them to undergo home monitoring before trial. The two never registered and no system was in place to alert the court.
While they were supposed to be under the court’s supervision, the two were sought in connection with the Sept. 28 slaying of Kareem Hanks in Baltimore. Bowers eluded police for a month on that subsequent charge.
The system is so loose, authorities can’t say for sure how many home monitors are ordered in Maryland each year.
“That really isn’t known and frankly that’s one of the problems, the fact that no one can put their hands on a number,” said Baltimore District Judge Nathan Braverman.
Home monitoring companies are good about tracking their clients, said Timothy Schlauch, owner of Westminster-based Alert Inc., a private home monitoring company. The system breaks down before these companies register clients, he said.
Certain criteria must be met for a defendant to be eligible for home monitoring and for a company to accept the client. Typically, when a defendant’s attorney deems it likely the judge will accept private home monitoring as a condition of posting bail, the lawyer will line up a contract with a company in advance of the bail hearing, court authorities said.
Courts usually send the paperwork to the monitoring company directly, so the company is aware if a defendant fails to register. In that case, authorities are immediately alerted, said Schlauch.
The problem is that the burden for registering for private home monitoring is left to defendants and defense attorneys. Courts sometimes fail to issue the order to the monitoring company, particularly in cases where no specific company was designated, legislators and court officials said.
The Judicial Conference’s Committee on Criminal Law and Procedure is now reviewing private home monitoring procedures.
The committee judges said they hope to prevent future oversights by recommending a new set of uniform judicial standards to Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Bell before the next session of the General Assembly in January, said Braverman, the committee’s chairman.
Out of 66,000 arrestees in Baltimore last year, Braverman said he would be surprised if 20 were ordered into private home monitoring.
“We have found that in many cases, some jurisdictions do not use private home monitoring at all and those who do, use it sparingly,” he said.
Given the judicial review, Braverman said he does not feel legislative action is necessary.
But lawmakers are weighing in. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Administration launched a sudden informational hearing Oct. 26 to examine the security lapse.
“We absolutely need to do something,” said Chairwoman Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel. “It’s urgent because the safety of the public is at stake.”
Legislators, too, are working toward a set of consistent statewide standards, along with judges and prosecutors, Cadden said.
Other aspects of the system also need attention, said Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, a House Judiciary Committee member who attended the hearing. He said he wants to focus legislation on the kinds of crimes eligible for private home detention, and possibly prevent its use in homicide cases or, possibly, all violent crimes.
But guaranteeing that defendants carry out private home monitoring orders is top priority.
“My gut is this (Baltimore incident) is not an isolated occurrence,” said Quinter. “I think it would be a lot like turning over a rock.”