Court Committee Votes to Amend Bail Rules

Maryland Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure voted on Friday to change the court’s rules governing bail bonds.

The Committee voted 18 to 5 on amendments intended to provide clearer guidance for taking a defendants financial circumstances into consideration for setting of bond when the defendant is considered a flight risk or a danger to society. The amended rule will go to the Court of Appeals for review following a public comment period.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

With the committee’s vote on Friday, the amended rule governing cash bail will be open for public comment for 30 days, according to Terri Charles, the court spokeswoman. The court will accept written comments on the rule change.

Charles said the Court of Appeals will then schedule a public hearing, where comments will also be heard. Those wishing to comment at the hearing must contact the Court of Appeals clerk’s office.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the state’s financial bail system had come under fire in recent weeks. Some Maryland lawmakers sought information from the Attorney General’s Office on the constitutionality of the state’s cash bail system. The Attorney General Frosh 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. Frosh also asked the Rules Committee to review the concerns expressed in the advice letter.

The rule changes were not without controversy as the bail bond industry and some members of the General Assembly stood strongly in opposition. The rule changes are likely to lead to legislative battles as lawmakers on both sides of the debate express interest in introducing legislation to either to reinforce and build upon the rule change or negate it all together.

The Washington Post reports:

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), a member of the rules committee and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was one of five people who voted Friday against recommending the change to the Court of Appeals.

Vallario argued that the issue should be handled by the legislature, not the courts, and accused the committee of a “rush to judgment.”

Previous attempts to pass laws reforming the bail system have stalled in the General Assembly, including bills sponsored by Frosh when he was a state senator.

In a letter to the rules committee this week, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, also tried to discourage the committee from taking action on the rule change.

For more information:

Maryland’s Highest Court Will Consider Cash Bail Reform (The Baltimore Sun)

Bail Reform in Maryland Clears Major Hurdle (The Washington Post)

Bail Bond System May Face Changes Under Court Rules (Conduit Street)