MARYLAND’s Highest court overhauls the cash bail system

Maryland’s highest court voted unanimously on Feb. 7 to overhaul the state’s bail policies, essentially abolishing a system in which poor people could languish behind bars for weeks or months before trial because they could not post bond, reported the Washington Post. The rule change, which takes effect July 1, requires judges to impose the “least onerous” conditions when setting bail for a defendant who is not considered a danger or a flight risk.
That means Maryland will join a handful of states, including New Mexico, Kentucky and New Jersey, that have moved away from bail as part of a larger criminal-justice overhaul movement.

For the first time judges will be asked to consider whether a defendant can afford to pay the bail, and whether they are a high risk to reoffend or to fail to appear.

According to the Post, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who has been pushing for an overhaul of the system, called the rules change a “huge step forward” that will lead to “more justice in Maryland.”

“Nationally, about 47 percent of felony defendants who are required to post bond remain jailed before their cases are heard because they cannot come up with the required amount,” the article furthered.
“In Maryland, more than 46,000 defendants between 2011 and 2015 were detained more than five days at the start of their criminal case, according to a 2016 report by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Of those, more than 17,000 were held on less than a $5,000 bail,” the newspaper reported.
Bail bondsmen in Maryland have vehemently opposed changing the state’s system, either through the court’s rules committee or through legislation in the State House in Annapolis. On Feb. 7, Vinnie Magliano, president of East Coast Bailbonds, said the court was “moving one million miles an hour in the wrong direction.”
Magliano, a member of the Maryland Bail Bonds Association, said the industry will consider pushing the legislature to roll back the court’s decision. “I’m advocating for sensible reform,” he said. “I think this goes too far.”

In January, the judges heard more than five hours of testimony about the merits of reforming the system, including from former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., and about the benefits of keeping the current policies in place.

Maryland’s legislature has been debating whether to limit or eliminate cash bail for more than a decade, with critics of the current system calling it discriminatory and

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