Court Ruling on Bail Hearings May Trigger Local Costs

A recent ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals raises questions about cost impacts – principally on the Office of the Public Defender, but potentially also falling to county governments, public safety departments, and correctional agencies.

The initial release from the Court of Appeals summarizes the case briefly:

Paul DeWolfe, Jr. v. Quinton Richmond, No. 34, September Term 2011.

Public Defender Act – Initial Appearance –The Public Defender Act, Maryland Code (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol.), §§ 16-101 through 16-403 of the Criminal Procedure Article provides for representation during the bail-hearing portion of the initial appearance before the District Court Commissioner conducted pursuant to Maryland Rules 4-213(a)(4) and 4-216(d).

At MACo’s recent Winter Conference, county officials discussed the matter at a number of meetings, including a forum for rural county officials and meetings of county attorneys and correctional administrators.

From coverage in the Gazette:

The state’s highest court ruled that a defendant’s bail hearing before a court commissioner is a criminal proceeding and, as such, defendants have a right to legal representation at that initial appearance.

“This opinion recognizes that when someone’s liberty is at stake, counsel should be present,” said Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe Jr.

However, it is the state’s policy to bring people arrested for crimes before a commissioner within 24 hours for a review of the charges and a decision on whether they will be released or jailed.

Although the quick turnaround appeals to some defendants, legal representation is almost never available so quickly.

And the state does not provide public defenders to those who cannot afford representation until a bail review by a judge, which is held on the next District Court day.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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