Federal government shutdown could lead to release of Indiana convicts

INDIANAPOLIS - Could dangerous criminals be turned loose on the streets here in central Indiana due to the federal government shutdown? That’s the concern of some attorneys as we come close to the closing of federal courts.

The federal courts in Indiana are open -- for now. But officials are saying they could run out of money in the next week or so if nothing happens in Washington to move budget talks off dead center. And if that happens, convicted criminals might have to be set free.

Defense attorney Jack Crawford said the legal community is getting more and more concerned as the day of a possible federal court shutdown approaches. He said there could be severe ramifications in criminal cases, where defendants are guaranteed by law that their cases will be handled speedily.

"A person who's arrested on a federal crime has to be brought in front of a magistrate for an initial hearing promptly. Usually (that) means the next day. And they are entitled to what's called a bond or detention hearing within three to five days,” Crawford said. “If that doesn't happen because the employees aren't there, then that person may have to be released back into the community."

Charges could be re-filed against that person after the government re-opens. But in the meantime a potentially dangerous criminal could be back on the streets.
 
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett is already operating with a half-staff and has cut back on civil suits to concentrate on criminal cases. He says his remaining staff will do whatever is needed to keep dangerous criminals from being turned loose.

"We will be working with the courts to make sure that all federal laws are complied with, especially as it goes to the right to a speedy trial,” Hogsett said. “But it is a concern, and particularly when half of your office is being furloughed by the partial government shutdown."

An official with the federal courts clerk’s office said that on or around Oct. 15 (that’s one week from Tuesday), the judges will re-assess their situation and “provide further guidance” on what will happen next.

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