The U.S. Attorney's office here, as part of its policy to get tough with drug traffickers, has begun to recommend that repeat drug offenders free on bond be placed back in jail if they were arrested in areas of heavy drug traffic and returned to those areas while on bond.
U.S. Magistrate Arthur L. Burnett inaugurated the new policy yesterday when he ordered back into custody Lawyer Mayo, 32 who was arrested earlier this month on a drug dealing charge on the 14th Street Corridor. He was released on personal recognizance on the condition that he not return to the neighborhood.
Prosecutors told Burnett that police had spotted Mayo in the 14th Street area several times since he was placed on bond Sept. 3. Now, Mayo must post a $10,000 surety bond before he can be released.
The new policy is similar to one proposed by D.C. Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy, chief of the court's criminal division, and Judge David L. Norman, who suggested that persons out on bond or on probation in some narcotics and prostitution cases be prohibited from visiting areas of the city in which those crimes are prevalent. That proposal is still under discussion.
The new bond policy for alleged drug dealers is the latest in a series of hardline steps taken by U.S. Attorney Charles F.C. Ruff in a stepped up campaign to crack down on the District of Columbia's drug problem, which is considered by many to be at its worst level in years.
Earlier this year, Ruff's office said it no longer would allow drug offenders to plead guilty to lesser charges unless they agreed to cooperate with police or become informants.
In the past, according to federal sources, many persons were allowed to offer pleas to lesser offenses merely asa way to expedite processing of the court's calendar. Seldom were defendants in those cases asked to cooperate with police.
Ruff also has set up a special drug unit consisting of seven highly trained trial assistants to prosecute drug cases.
"We're trying to put pressure on drug traffickers and drug users every way we can," said assistant U.S. Attorney William J. O'Malley Jr., a member of the drug unit.
O'Malley said the new bail policy will apply only to known "street" drug dealers with previous records. He said police will keep a record of violations of travel and curfew restrictions, but such violations will not result automatically in new arrests or of persons being stopped on the street. "Their presence will be noted and reported," he said.
O'Malley said that in addition prosecutors also will consider seeking contempt of court charges against those violating bond conditions.
Defense lawyers and civil liberties experts yesterday questioned the policy.
Ralph Knowles, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national prison project, said the primary purpose of setting bond is to make sure that a person shows up for trial. "I don't know what going down 14th Street has to do with whether a person shows up at trial," Knowles said. "The right to travel in this country and the right to associate freely with anyone are important."
Assistant U.S. Attorney E. Lawrence Barcella Jr. the head of the drug unit, said most drug offenders arrested near 14th Street or other high drug areas do not live there. Mayo, for example, was arrested on 14th Street, but he lives in Arlington.
"By and large one can assume with some certainty that they have only one purpose in being at the location," Barcella said. "If they are not drug dealers, (the new policy) should provide no hardships. If they are drug dealers, I hope it is a hardship."