If You're in Jail Without Charges, Dallas Cops Want More Time To Build a Case Against You

For 25 years, people arrested in Dallas County but not sure why have been protected under more or less the same rule. Dallas cops have three whole business days to figure out what to charge an arrested person with and get the paperwork in, not including the day you were actually arrested. (Booked into jail on a Friday night? Happy weekend, sucker).

Sure, you can bond out of jail much sooner than three days if you have the money. Giving the cops a deadline, however, helps ensure that all defendants get treated fairly, at least according to the district judges who created and upheld the rule in the first place. "It's just saying you can't hold someone in jail without a case file," explains Judge Rick Magnis, who as presiding judge of the Dallas Criminal Courts has tweaked the three-day rule slightly over recent years, allowing a full 10 days for crimes like murder and assault.

But earlier this month, the Dallas Police Department famously released a bunch of inmates who weren't supposed to go free, and now Chief David Brown is blaming that deadline policy as part of the problem.

The policy, officially called the dry writ, is putting "a real strain" on officers, Brown told City Council last week.

The police department has brought up the same concerns to the District Attorney's Office. "They have expressed to us that they need more time to properly investigate and file cases," county prosecutor Ellyce Lindberg tells Unfair Park in an email.

Brown began speaking out against the policy after his department announced earlier this month that a glitch with a new computer system caused cops to accidentally release more than 20 inmates.

Sure, sounds bad, but the inmates hadn't been convicted yet anyway -- they were simply charged with crimes and hadn't made bail. (As NBC breathlessly reported: "The truth is that the suspects are being released because deadlines are being missed to formally charge them.")

That doesn't mean the cases against those inmates go away. Cops can still take their sweet time to file the charges, even with the inmates out of jail. The deadline is just a way to keep the county from holding broke people in jail indefinitely while cops figure out exactly what those charges are. It's for that reason that defense attorneys say the deadline policy as it stands is a sensible one.

"People that cannot afford to bond out are entitled to get their accusations that they face against them in a timely manner, not just sit there and wait for them to do it at their own leisure," says criminal defense attorney Jose Noriega, describing Brown's recent complaints about the policy as "disingenuous".

It's true that other counties in Texas are more lenient than Dallas, allowing cops more time to hold suspects before filing cases. But outside of the state, the rules are often more favorable to the suspects. In New York State, for example, suspects must be arraigned within 24 hours after their arrest thanks to a 1990 court ruling.

In Dallas, prosecutors and the cops haven't specified all of the offenses they want more time to work on. Hopefully for suspects, it's not drug offenses, because people who work in the courts say those already take forever to file, sometimes over a year, according to District Judge Lena Levario.

"It seems to be getting worse," adds bail bondsman Eddie Dees. "Even on misdemeanors, they take forever."

For now, the District Attorney's Office will only confirm that police are asking for a full 10 days to file charges in domestic violence cases. "They asked me not to discuss everything that we asked for, because they don't want to work it out in the media, they want to work out with the judges," district attorney's spokeswoman Debbie Denmon said.

Judge Magnis says he hasn't spoken to the police directly yet but has a meeting scheduled next week. He sounds not that excited about it. "They've known about the [dry writ] rule since 1988. The rule didn't change. The police for whatever reason slipped up on some cases, and they're trying to blame rules instead of accepting responsibility."

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