Twenty-seven inmates booked into jail over the weekend for investigation of rape, assault, fraud and drug distribution were ordered freed Monday because no charges had been filed against them.
Prosecutors say 3rd Circuit Judge Dennis Fuchs is to blame for the foul-up, but court officials say prosecutors can only point fingers at themselves.Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom said his office is normally given until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to meet with detectives and determine if charges should be filed against people who are booked into jail over a weekend.
"That's the procedure that's been followed for at least five years," he said.
But Fuchs, who was the on-call judge this past weekend, set a deadline for 5 p.m. on Monday. Prosecutors say they couldn't get to all of the weekend cases on Monday, so 3rd Circuit Commissioner Frances Palacios ordered the remaining 27 weekend inmates released because of Fuchs' order.
The release angered police and prosecutors.
"This particular occasion, Dennis Fuchs just said arbitrarily all of the cases (have a deadline) at 5 o'clock Monday," Yocom said.
Police detectives often aren't assigned cases from weekend arrests until Monday morning. Yocom said there is seldom time in one day for detectives to wrap up the case and meet with prosecutors to determine what if any charges should be filed. Some "screenings" take up to an hour, and eight hours is seldom enough time.
"He (Fuchs) should have realized it was unreasonable . . . to get this all done by Monday at 5" especially when there was such a large number of arrests this weekend, Yocom said.
Fuchs was at a judicial conference in Idaho and could not be reached for comment. But Cheryll May, public information officer for the courts, said prosecutors could have resolved the problem with a simple phone call requesting a time extension.
"The underlying point is the courts have never refused a request to extend time to allow prosecutors more time to file charges," she said.
May added that court officials tried to contact the attorney's office to warn them about the approaching deadline but were not successful.
"It (the Monday deadline) might have been a shorter than usual time, although that's usually what Judge Fuchs gives," she said. "But in the judicial branch, we work hard to try and fulfill our duty and mission and don't appreciate it when the prosecutor's office blames us for failing to perform its mission."
Yocom said his office did not have time to file motions for additional times for each of the 27 cases. A phone call with such a request, he said, would likely not be constitutional.
Yocom said all of the remaining 27 cases were screened Tuesday.
"What (the release of the inmates) does is cause the system a little bit of inconvenience," he said. But Yocom expects police will likely locate the 27 people and re-arrest them.