A few minutes after noon yesterday, about 18 hours after they were arrested in the doorway of a club near the corner of 14th and U streets NW on charges of possessing morphine, three Washington men smiled as the strolled out of D.C. Superior Court.
They were among the last of more than 70 people arrested during a police crackdown on drug dealing in the Shaw neighborhood last week. And, following a six-minute arraignment, they were the latest to get back on the street.
Their seemingly confident courtroom exit was an ironic, but not unusual, episode in the daily drama that began when police began invading the drug corridors of Shaw last Tuesday afternoon. The case of the three drug defendants started with their arrest at 7:30 Friday night.
They were read their rights while being arrested, then taken to the 3rd District station at 16th and V streets NW. There they were charged with possession of morphine, a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail or $1,000 fine, or both. They were formally identified, fingerprinted and allowed to contact relatives and retain lawyers.
Police filed arrest records and ran computer checks to determine whether the three men were wanted on other charges. After this clearance, the three were taken by police van to the central cell block in the basement of police headquarters at 300 Indiana Avenue NW. Later, they were transported to the D.C. Jail, where they stayed overnight.
Yesterday morning they were taken to the D.C. Superior Court building on Indiana Avenue NW, where the Saturday session was scheduled to begin at 10:30. They sat in a small chamber behind Courtroom 17, waiting for their turn to face the judge. Occasionally a metal door would open to admit one of their lawyers, providing a glimpse of relatives in the courtroom audience.
For 75 minutes, friends and relatives waited for the judge. Seated on wooden pews under the sterile glow of fluorescent lights, they dozed awakened to a baby's crying, yawned, nodded again and slept.
At 11:15 the audience stirred as the three, along with other defendants, were brought into court and seated near the judge's bench.
"There he is," said a young man in the audience. The woman sitting beside him looked at one of the three men, her brother-in-law, and smiled. He smiled back.
Soon the cycle of yawning, nodding and dozing started again until 11:45, when the judge entered the courtroom and everyone rose, or at least leaned forward slightly. It was another 20 minutes before the morphine case came up and trhe trhree men were called to the front of the judge's bench, where they formed a semicircle with their lawyers.
Within six minutes their charges had been read aloud and hearing and trial dates set. Then they were released oin their personal recognizance, contingent upon reporting to a probation officer tomorrow and immediately entering a drug treatment and rehabilitation program.
Smiling braodly, two of the drug defendants left Courtroom 17 with their lawyers, while the third leftafter exchanging a smile and a kiss with his sister-in-law.