Andrew Michaels - May 21, 2021
Criminal defendants in the Baltimore City Circuit Court begin with an arraignment where they are informed of the charges against them, their right to counsel and, perhaps, have their case resolved prior to trial. Yet, not all defendants’ cases are able to reach resolution at which time they move forward to reception court.
Under Administrative Judge Audrey J. S. Carrión, the judge in charge of the criminal division, Judge Melissa M. Phinn, sets the schedule of who presides over reception court and its two parts, according to said Bradley Tanner, a public information officer for the Maryland Judiciary.
Judge Melissa K. Copeland currently presides over reception court for incarcerated defendants and Judge Althea M. Handy presides over reception court for non-incarcerated defendants. The incarcerated and non-incarcerated dockets occur at 9 a.m. and 9: 30 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The Maryland Judiciary states the reception court schedule does not change, but Baltimore Witness has found all schedules to fluctuate from day to day, either starting early or late. Upwards of 20 cases may be heard in a given day. There are also times when technical difficulties interfere with the proceedings.
In the day of COVID-19, reception court is listed on the docket in courtroom 200 of the Mitchell Courthouse but has all parties attending remotely. The judge, defendants, victims, witnesses and attorneys can attend via Zoom. Non-parties are provided dial-in phone numbers and meeting identification numbers for both dockets.
Reception court was previously conducted in courtroom 215 of the Mitchell Courthouse, while there was a second hearing that was held in courtroom 540 of the Cummings Courthouse before the pandemic.
Reception court is currently limited to pleas, inactive cases and cases in which the prosecution decides not to charge defendants due to COVID-19. The hearing is scheduled by the criminal division’s associate administrator.