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Milam issues statement on dead docketed cases

In response to a story in last week’s Herald Gazette regarding an alleged local thief jumping bail, district attorney Richard Milam issued a statement emphasizing that a ‘dead docket order is not a dismissal’. Milam said maintaining a dead docket is ‘one of the basic duties of the clerk of court’ and cases with such status are ‘on hold’ until prosecutable. Milam said there are many reasons cases are dead docketed but most such orders are issued when defendants fail to appear. Most such incidents result with a judge issuing a bench warrant and bond forfeiture. The bondsman is then responsible for bringing the defendant in while the sheriff places the bench warrant on law enforcement databases. If the defendant is found or arrested on other charges, the sheriff will be notified. In the meantime, the case is removed from subsequent court calendars, saving time for all parties involved. ‘Therefore, think of a dead docket order as a criminal procedure to place a case on hold until something happens, generally the arrest of the defendant on a bench warrant.’ Milam’s full statement follows: From: Richard Milam, District Attorney To: Citizens of Lamar County There have been questions recently concerning the criminal procedure known as the ‘dead docket’. Therefore, I will try to explain this process. Maintaining a ‘dead docket’ is one of the basic duties of the Clerk of Superior Court contained in the Georgia Code at §15-6-61(a)(4)(B). That section is one of the oldest portions of the Code, dating back to 1799. The use of the word ‘dead’ is very old and is misleading in view of today’s common meaning of the word. Criminal cases in the Superior Court begin with a charging document, either an indictment or accusation. Criminal cases end with a disposition, generally, either a conviction (or a sentence under first offender, etc.), an acquittal, or a dismissal. A dead docket order is not a dismissal, a dead docket order essentially puts a case on hold until the case is prosecutable. There are many reasons why a particular case might be the subject of a dead docket order, but most dead docket orders are entered because the defendant has failed to appear and his bond has been revoked. When a defendant fails to show for court, the judge issues a bench warrant and bond forfeiture. The bench warrant directs law enforcement officers to arrest the defendant and bring him before the Court. The bond forfeiture part is directed to the bondsman, ordering him to bring the defendant in to answer the charges; the Code gives the bondsman 120 days to do this before the bondsman has to pay the amount of the bond. The Sheriff’s office places notice of the bench warrant on the computerized Georgia Criminal Information Center, which is maintained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and connects to similar systems maintained by other states. Therefore, if any law enforcement officer has reason to check the database on that particular defendant (such as arrest for another offense or a traffic stop), the bench warrant will be found, the defendant will be arrested, and the Sheriff will be notified. The local Sheriff’s office also will look for the defendant. When a charging document is filed, the case goes on an arraignment calendar. If the defendant pleads not guilty at arraignment, the case goes on a trial calendar. The Clerk’s office prepares the trial calendar, mails notice to the defendant and his lawyer, and issues subpoenas for witnesses. The Sheriff serves the witness subpoenas. Law enforcement officers involved in the case are also served subpoenas and must schedule their time to attend court and prepare to testify. Any attorney in the case must also schedule time for court and preparation for trial. If the defendant has failed to show at a previous court hearing of the case and a bench warrant has issued, there is no reason to require the Clerk, the Sheriff, law enforcement officers and lawyers to do this work. The work to be done at that point is to find the defendant and secure his attendance in court. Therefore, the case is placed upon the ‘dead docket’ until the defendant is found by law enforcement officers. When the defendant is brought in, the judge issues an order removing the case from the dead docket and the case proceeds. Therefore, think of a dead docket order as a criminal procedure to place a case on hold until something happens, generally the arrest of the defendant on a bench warrant. If the newspaper would like to be helpful to law enforcement and the Court, a list of bench warrants could be published so that the public can notify law enforcement officers if they know the whereabouts of a person who the subject of a bench warrant.

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