A D.C. City Council committee, reacting swiftly to pressure from Capitol Hill, yesterday reversed itself and approved a measure designed to make it easier to keep repeat offenders, especially suspects of violent crimes, in jail until their trials.
The bill--almost identical to a measure rejected last July--was approved by the council's judiciary committee just three days after Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) urged Mayor Marion Barry and city law enforcement officials to "stop the revolving door" that allows violent crime suspects to be released on bail.
However, the committee took no action on D'Amato's most controversial suggestion--that judges be empowered to set high cash bonds for suspects as a way of keeping them off the streets.
The measure approved yesterday would extend from the current 60 days to a maximum of 90 days the period during which suspects deemed a threat to the community may be kept in jail under preventive detention.
It also would allow authorities to detain suspects up to five working days, instead of the five calendar days provided now, to determine whether they may have violated parole or probation.
Also under the bill, the current preventive detention system would be changed so that suspects in first-degree murder cases could be held for trial without an extensive hearing at which prosecutors must reveal much of their evidence.
All three provisions were among the changes sought by D'Amato and endorsed by Barry and Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, both of whom are running for reelection this year.
The measure, proposed by judiciary committee chairman David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), had the effect of upstaging Barry and Dixon by responding first to D'Amato's concerns. Clarke is running for chairman against Dixon and former council chairman Sterling Tucker in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
A spokesman for D'Amato said yesterday that the committee's action was "a step in the right direction," but that the council should consider the high bond provision. Clarke said that issue should be studied more closely because some legal experts contend high cash bonds discriminate against the poor.
A spokesman for Barry said the mayor was still preparing his response to D'Amato, which could include proposing high cash bonds, and would have no comment on Clarke's legislation. Dixon said he would review the mayor's proposals before endorsing the action by Clarke's committee.
Barry and Dixon, who met with D'Amato last week, had backed the senator's call for new legislation and had promised to have emergency measures ready for Tuesday's council session. D'Amato chairs the committee that holds the city's purse strings in the Senate.
Leslie Harris, executive director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, yesterday criticized the effort to quickly reform the bail and detention laws. "What this is doing is putting administrative convenience above constitutional protections," Harris said. "What we need is a speedy-trial law, which has been shown to be more effective" than preventive detention.
Last July, the judiciary committee voted 3-1 against a similar bill proposed by Clarke.
The only major difference between that bill and the one approved yesterday was the five-day hold provision, which under the bill last year would have been extended to 10 calendar days.
Council member John Ray (D-At Large), a candidate for mayor, voted against last year's measure but in favor of the one passed yesterday.
He said he switched because the U.S. Attorney's Office has now made preventive detention a priority in violent crime and drug-related cases.
Council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large), who also voted against the measure last year, said through a spokesman yesterday that the bill was "an idea whose time had arrived."