Bail Reforms Proposed, County Costs Still Loom

On January 15 the Maryland Budget and Taxation Committee considered a proposal from the Maryland Judiciary on meeting State constitutional requirements regarding bail reform.  The proposal could potentially reduce State compliance costs but its impact on county costs was less clear.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Judiciary formed a task force that has offered its own proposal on how to comply with Maryland Court of Appeals decision in the case of DeWolfe v. RichmondThe decision found that there is a State constitutional requirement to provide representation to indigent individuals at all stages of the bail process, including the initial appearance before a District Court commissioner and subsequent review by a District Court judge.  The requirement is projected to have significant State and county government costs.  The Maryland General Assembly convened a legislative task force that offered recommendations on how to comply with the Court’s decision but those recommendations were subsequently rejected by the Court in a decision dubbed Richmond II.

The proposal of the Judiciary Task Force on Pretrial Confinement and Release would eliminate many of the initial appearances before a commissioner.  Instead there would be one bail hearing before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, Monday through Friday.  Circuit Court Judges would be cross designated to provide assistance to District Court Judges as needed and more initial hearings would be conducted by video.

The necessary number of commissioners would be retained to conduct initial hearings on weekends and holidays, with the possibility that judges might eventually move to a 7-day a week schedule.  Commissioners would still consider the issuance of interim, protective and peace orders and might possibly serve as a statewide pretrial release unit that would review cases and make recommendations to judges.  The Judiciary would also continue to consider whether a reliable risk assessment matrix could be developed in order to reduce the need for or expedite bail hearings.

The Judiciary representatives testified that the court personnel costs under the Task Force’s proposal would be $3.6 million, with additional funding needed to expand the use of video conferencing in court and local detention facilities ($1.9 million) and space for new judgeships ($514,000).  However, the representatives noted that it could not determine the costs for local governments and MACo remains concerned that counties will still face significant operating and capital costs.

Judiciary Presentation to Budget and Taxation Committee

Full Maryland Judiciary Proposal

Several Budget and Taxation Committee praised the Judiciary representatives for their work on the proposal but did seek assurances that if the General Assembly adopted the proposal, the Court of Appeals would find that the requirements raised in Richmond and Richmond II would be satisfied.   Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera responded that the proposal would satisfy the specific concerns raised in  Richmond and Richmond II  but could make no guarantees about other potential claims or cases.  The Judiciary expects the proposal will be introduced as a bill for consideration by the General Assembly.