Public Defender: Dalton City Court Unlawfully Detained Defendants

The public defender for Dalton, Georgia’s municipal court has filed a motion requesting that at least seven people be released from jail because the city has held them for as long as three weeks without charging them. Holding someone for longer than 48-72 hours before filing criminal charges has been held to be a violation of every citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

“You can’t leave someone in jail that long [without a hearing],” says the public defender, Josh Smith.

According to the criminal defense attorney, the people are accused of probation violations. Their cases are slated to be heard by City Court, which is a part of the Dalton Municipal Court. In Georgia, municipal courts handle traffic offenses, local ordinance violations and minor criminal offenses such as misdemeanor shoplifting and possession of marijuana.

Although the people being held are accused of violating probation, the court cannot revoke their probation without a trial. Just as with any criminal charge, violation of probation must be properly charged and proved in a court of law.

How Long Should a U.S. Citizen Wait in Jail Before Being Charged With a Crime?

City Court in Dalton is held only once a week, and probation revocation cases are heard at the end of the day, according to Angie Sackett, Dalton’s Clerk of Court. Since it is held on Wednesdays, there were several weeks over the holidays when it was not held. City Court hearings resumed on January 5, but the court was so overloaded with new cases that no probation violation cases were heard.

Public Defender Smith filed the motion to dismiss these cases on January 6 and expected the unlawful detention to be resolved immediately. Unfortunately, the City Court judge was not in the office Friday, and most Atlanta-area courts were closed Monday and Tuesday due to the sudden winter storm.

Smith’s motion did have an additional unusual aspect: He filed it on behalf of several people whose names he did not know. He met with one person on Friday and had plans to meet with the others on Monday, January 10, and file an amended motion with the names of any probationers who want criminal charges representation.

Smith says that some of the probationers said they have a bond hearing set, but it isn’t until March.

Dalton mayor David Pennington told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he was not aware that the city was unlawfully detaining any criminal defendants, but he now plans to look into the issue.

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press, “Dalton challenged on probation violators,” Joy Lukachick, January 8, 2011