MD High Court: Lawyer at Bail Hearing Must Be Provided

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled the right of counsel at bail hearings is a right guaranteed by the Declaration of Rights under the Maryland Constitution.  This ruling has potentially serious budgetary implications for both the state (who funds the Office of the Public Defender) but also for county governments, who support the budgets of the State’s Attorneys and local correctional centers.  While the costs entailed by this ruling are still uncertain, most estimates are well into the tens of millions of dollars.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

Public defender Paul DeWolfe said his office would “do our best to implement the court’s decision.”

“Obviously, it would entail resources well beyond what we currently have,” DeWolfe said. “We struggle to provide adequate representation on all levels for our clients, and this is an additional requirement that will take enormous amounts of additional resources.

“It doesn’t just affect the public defender’s office,” he added, but also “the police, the commissioners, the corrections people and the state’s attorneys, [who] are now going to have to decide how they’re going to be present at all these hearings.”

As this issue initially arose in early 2012, both the state and counties were concerned that widely expanded rights to counsel could place burdens on both Public Defenders and State’s Attorneys, taxing both state and local budgets. Legislation was passed during the 2013 session to clarify the intent of statutory rights to counsel, seeking to avoid the broad outcome apparently embedded within the court’s finding today.

Read the full Court of Appeals opinion online.

See previous Conduit Street coverage of this issue below:
Daunting County Costs Forecasted From Bail Hearing Decision
2013 session wrap-up of Government Liability & Courts legislation

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties