Bail Bond System May Face Changes Under Court Rules

Maryland Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure (Rules Committee) is considering changes to the court’s rules governing bail bonds. The changes, which are not without controversy, are intended to ensure a defendant’s financial circumstances are taken into consideration when court officials set bond.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the state’s financial bail system has come under fire in recent weeks. Maryland lawmakers sought information from the Attorney General’s Office (AG) on the constitutionality of the state’s cash bail system. The AG issued a letter of advice stating that the current system could be found to be unconstitutional and in violation of due process by the Court of Appeals. The AG also asked the Rules Committee review the concerns expressed in the advice letter. Since then the Rules Committee has met to discuss amending current court rules to provide clearer guidance on principals already in place regarding the setting of bond.

The Herald Mail reports:

In October, the Office of the Counsel to the General Assembly of the Attorney General’s Office sent a memo to legislators. The memo stated the Maryland Court of Appeals could conclude that judicial officers be required “to conduct an individualized inquiry into a criminal defendant’s ability to pay a financial condition of pretrial release.”

“While imposing a financial condition is allowed under current State law and is not unconstitutional in and of itself, the Court of Appeals would likely hold that … a judicial officer may not impose a financial condition set solely to detain a defendant,” according to the memo from Sandra Benson Brantley, the attorney general’s counsel to the General Assembly.

John P. Morrisey, the chief judge for the District Court of Maryland, followed the memorandum with a letter of “cautionary advice” to judges and district court commissioners.

“A defendant should be released on personal recognizance(emphasis added in the letter), with or without permissible conditions unless the judicial officer finds that no condition or combination of such conditions will reasonably assure” a defendant’s appearance in court, or safety of the victim or community, according to the letter.

“If the defendant cannot be released on personal recognizance, the judicial officer should impose the least onerous (emphasis added in the letter) condition” to assure their appearance in court, Morrisey’s letter said.

“Financial conditions are not an appropriate way of assuring public safety and should not be imposed for the purpose of assuring the detention of the defendant,” the letter said. “If there is any reasonable likelihood of danger to the victims, or other persons, or the community, the defendant should not be released.”

The Rules Committee meeting to discuss the amendments on bail bonds will be held at 9:30 am, Friday, November 18 at the Judiciary Education and Conference Center.

Read the full article in The Herald Mail for more information.

Related coverage on Conduit Street: AG Questions Constitutionality of MD Cash Bail

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