TEXT OF LETTER TO CITIZENS OF FULTON COUNTY
January 3, 2011
Letter to the Citizens of Fulton County:
This letter is written in my capacity as Chief Judge on behalf of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit. On December 27, 2010 State Patrol Trooper Chadwick LeCroy lost his life in the line of duty. As a judge, I am prohibited from commenting on the circumstances associated with his death. However, I, and every judge in this Circuit, recognize that his death represents a grievous loss to his family and the State of Georgia.
The purpose of this letter is to provide accurate information and fulfill our duty to the public in providing transparency with respect to the Court's business as it relates to the release of Gregory Favors, the person charged with the shooting of Trooper LeCroy.
At or around 9:35 p.m. on December 10, 2010, Favors and a co-defendant, Mr. Larry Brown, were arrested by the Atlanta Police Department. Mr. Favors was arrested for the offenses of Entering Auto, Possession of Cocaine, Possession of Tools to Commit a Crime and Obstruction. Mr. Brown was charged with Possession of Tools to Commit a Crime and Party to a Crime. Both were taken to the Fulton County Jail.
Due process under the Constitution requires that a person arrested without a warrant "have the probable cause for his or her continued detention reviewed by a neutral and detached magistrate as soon as reasonably feasible but, in any event, within 48 hours of arrest." Capestany v. State, 289 Ga. App. 47 (2007). The 48-hour constitutional requirement is a well settled principle of law, established two decades ago in the case of County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991). In Georgia, the constitutional mandate is also recognized by statute. OCGA 17-4-62 provides that any person who is arrested without a warrant and who is not brought before an appropriate judicial officer within 48 hours of arrest "shall be released." The 48-hour rule is clearly not "a self-imposed Fulton County judicial system deadline" as it has been characterized. It is mandatory.
The due process mandate to determine probable cause within 48 hours is fulfilled in Fulton County by having arrestees appear on a first appearance calendar before a magistrate at the Fulton County jail. The determination of probable cause is made by the arresting officer appearing before the magistrate and testifying to the circumstances of the arrest. If a defendant has been held for 48 hours and the arresting officer fails to appear at the calendar, the defendant must be released.
To determine probable cause, a magistrate must have something to review-either a warrant or the testimony of an arresting officer. The Court's records reflect that Mr. Favors' codefendant appeared before a magistrate within 48 hours of his arrest. There was no warrant presented to the magistrate and the arresting officer was not present. The magistrate was, therefore, required to release Mr. Brown. Had Mr. Favors been on the same calendar, he also would have been required to be released.
On December 13, Mr. Favors first appeared on a calendar. As of that point, he had been incarcerated pursuant to his warrantless arrest for more than 48 hours. When he appeared before the magistrate, no warrant had yet been obtained and the arresting officer was not present. Under those circumstances the magistrate before whom Mr. Favors appeared had no alternative but to comply with Georgia Law and the Constitution. For that reason, Mr. Favors was released.
The imposition of a signature bond on a defendant entitled to release is an attempt at a practical accommodation. It reflects an effort by the magistrate to maintain some control and contact with the arrestee until the arresting officer obtains an arrest warrant or the prosecuting agency issues an indictment. In this case, no warrant was obtained and no indictment issued after Mr. Favors' release pursuant to Riverside.
When Mr. Favors was released on December 13, 2010 it was not the result of judicial whim or an adherence to some arbitrary self-imposed rule. Rather, he was released because the judges and courts of this community have a duty to uphold the rule of law and comply with its requirements. It has also been suggested that had Mr. Favors received a different sentence in other proceedings or if his case had been heard through some other process, he would not have been on the streets. That suggestion reflects the reality that when a tragedy occurs, people want explanations. Hindsight is often the first tool reached for in an effort to provide an easy answer.
Fulton County, like many urban courts across the country, has developed a two-tiered system for adjudicating criminal cases. Less complex cases involving non-violent offenses are heard more quickly than more complex cases. Mr. Favors at the time of his arrest was not under indictment in a non-complex case. His release had therefore nothing to do with that program.
It is true that Mr. Favors had previous matters which were heard in Fulton County. Those cases were heard and sentences imposed based upon the facts and circumstances presented to the court at the time those decisions were made. Responsibility for the decisions rest with the decision makers. However, the propriety of those decisions can only be fairly judged in the context in which they were made based on the information provided to the Court.
Trooper LeCroy's death was tragic. The judges of this community believe that the people of Fulton County deserve a justice system that upholds the rule of law, seeks truth and does justice. On behalf of myself and all of the judges of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, I pledge that we will continue to do all we can to insure the public is protected and well-served. This includes our duty to be faithful to the law, even in difficult times.
Hon. Cynthia D. Wright, Chief Judge
Superior Court of Fulton County
Atlanta Judicial Circuit
cc: Mayor Kasim Reed, City of Atlanta
Chief George Turner, Atlanta Police Department
Chairman John H. Eaves, Fulton County Board of Commissioners
Fulton County Board of Commissioners
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard