A late introductory bill, SB 942, was heard Friday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill proposes an amendment to the State constitution that would repeal the requirement for government-funded legal representation for indigent defendants at an initial appearance in front of a District Court Commissioner. This requirement stems from the Court of Appeals ruling in DeWolfe v. Richmond which established representation as a right under the Maryland Constitution.
In a hearing earlier this week on another bill aimed at addressing pretrial issues, Senate President Miller charged the committee to address issues surrounding the Richmond Decision and requirements for indigent representation. As other bills aimed at altering the pretrial system have died, SB 942 was introduced late as another alternative.
The committee heard testimony from the bill’s sponsor and opposition testimony from a number of stakeholders concerned as to the impact the bill would have on the rights of indigent defendants. The hearing turned into a debate on the status of the pretrial system and options for changes that could address issues of inequality and inefficiency. With session winding down, the status of SB 942 and legislative action to address Richmond remains unclear. A similar bill introduced last session did not pass.