Possible Public Defender Compromise Underway

A March 9 Gazette.net article discusses a potential compromise that has been reached by the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to address the issue of public defender representation at bail hearings and review.    As previously reported by Conduit Street, a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision required public defenders to represent indigent individuals appearing before a District Court Commissioner for bail review, incurring significant costs to the State’s Attorney Office and local law enforcement and correctional departments.  From the article:

As early as Friday, lawmakers could vote on identical amended bills in the House and Senate, although a vote is more likely to come early next week.

The consensus amendments call for a bail hearing before a commissioner within 24 hours, but would not require a bail review hearing before a District Court judge until the court’s next regular session.

The previous Senate version of the bill would have required a bond review before a judge within 72 hours of arrest, a move that would have opened courts throughout the state on weekends.

Another aspect of the Senate bill, which requires police officers to issue written citations instead of jailing suspects for nearly all misdemeanors for which the maximum penalty of imprisonment is 90 days or less, is included in the consensus bill.  …

The consensus bill also protects statements made by defendants to the commissioner from being used as evidence at trial.

In addition, the bill would create a 25-member Task Force to study the Office of the Public Defender’s representation of indigent suspects, which would submit a report by Nov. 1, 2013.

MACo has testified in support of legislation to address the issue, although further litigation appears likely.  The Task Force would include a MACo representative, as well as representatives from the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, and the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association.

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