Local News

Growing Court System Allows Suspect to Slip Through the Seams

Posted September 28, 1998

— Too many cases and not enough time led to the early and accidental release of a violent inmate in Wake County, court officials said Tuesday.

It is no secret that there is a growing perception that Wake County has an overburdened criminal justice system. There have been several reports lately of people who did not show up for court because they were across the street in jail.

Last month, Raleigh Police charged Dominic Backs for the armed robbery of a credit union and an ABC store. He was being held at the Wake County Jail on $750,000 bond.

Last Monday Backs appeared in front of Judge Ann Marie Calabria. Instead of returning him to his cell, Calabria mistakenly ordered his release.

"I was shocked because I have no recall of this particular person," Calabria said. "I don't know why this happened. But it is my writing and all I can imagine is that I wrote on the wrong sheet."

The courtroom mistake was discovered 48 hours later. Raleigh Police did not find out their suspect was out of jail until four days later. That is when the SWAT team found him hiding in a North Raleigh apartment.

"[We] detained several individuals that were there and recovered Mr. Backs, and several weapons that were there, and a small amount of drugs," Raleigh Police Capt. Michael Longmire said.

"I'm relieved that he's back in jail," Calabria said.

Judge Calabria refuses to place all of the blame on Wake County's overcrowded judicial system for her mistake, but admits it could have been a contributing factor since each of the county's 12 district judges process an average of 15,000 cases a year.

"We have 12 district court judges, we saw 180,000 cases last year. So yes, I don't remember every case that we see because some days are busier than other days," she said. "We just left a courtroom where a judge can have 1,000 cases in one day."

The judge is amazed something like this hasn't happened before.

"It's, I'd say, almost a miracle that it doesn't," Calabria said. "I think everybody's doing the best they can."

A number of law enforcement officers in the community expressed amazement, not at the judge's error, but the fact that the mistake slipped by so many other people involved in the process.

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