In July 2017, a Maryland court ruling will take effect which will revise a hallmark of the state’s criminal justice system. A Maryland Court of Appeals 2016 ruling requires state court judges to release nonviolent offenders from jail without posting bail if they are not a flight risk. However, the state legislature is also considering a bill that would reverse this decision.
Bail bonding is currently a $2 million industry associated with the 12 million jail bookings in this country each year. Most of these bookings, however, involve non-violent offenses.
The court’s ruling will greatly reduce the imposition of bail in the state because it requires judges and county courts to place the least burdensome conditions on nonviolent offenders. Proponents claim that more jurisdictions across the United States have successfully used risk assessments of alleged offenders to determine whether they are at risk of skipping their scheduled court appearances or committing other crimes before their trial.
Proponents also argue that this process makes it more likely that defendants will appear at their criminal trial and other hearings. They can also gain access to treatment, supervision and housing services. These supporters also believe it lowers the chances that defendants languish in jail which has long-term consequences such as recidivism.
These assessments have been used by Washington, D.C., since the 1990s. Connecticut, Colorado and Kentucky also enacted similar measures.
Bills are pending in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate to reverse the court’s ruling. However, sponsors of these measures have withdrawn or delayed consideration to await the impact of the court’s ruling. One proposed bill, however, would place the court’s ruling into law.
Supporters of these bills contend that violent crime will increase. The state’s bail bond industry has also supported legislative measures to overrule the appellate court on reducing bail.
A lawyer may be able to assist a defendant immediately after to arrest to assure that their right to bail or a risk assessment is not violated. An attorney may also begin to build their criminal defense at the earliest opportunity.
Source: The Frederick News-Post, “Much-needed bill reform ruling would improve criminal justice in Maryland-if it’s allowed to work,” March 22, 2017