Editor’s note: In conjunction with OSI-Baltimore’s forum series, The Burden of Bail, Audacious Ideas is pleased to feature a month-long blog series about pre-trial detention and bail reform. This is the last post in the series. Read previous posts.
In January 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals in DeWolfe v. Richmond, for the first time, declared the public defender’s office is required to represent indigent defendants at the initial appearance before District Court Commissioners and at the initial bail review before a district or circuit court judge. In April 2012, citing the cost of this unfunded judicial mandate, the Maryland Legislature amended the public defender statute to remove the right to counsel at commissioner hearings but mandated counsel at the initial judicial bail review. This swift action by the legislature disappointed those who had been advocating for years for an expanded right to counsel to reduce pretrial detention.
However, it can be fairly said, the events of the past four months have advanced in a positive way, the right to counsel in Maryland. The plaintiffs, public defenders and advocacy groups in the Richmond litigation and before the legislature have shed light like never before on the unfairness and injustices in the pretrial detention of poor people in the State of Maryland. Moreover, the legislation affirmed the right to counsel at judicial bail reviews and the budget submitted by the Governor and passed by the legislature provided funding to the Public Defender’s Office to cover bail reviews statewide. Similar legislation and budget initiatives have consistently failed to pass the legislature dating back fifteen or more years.
The Richmond decision would have required the Maryland Office of the Public Defender to become the first public defender in the country to staff hearings with intake workers and attorneys twenty four hours per day, seven days per week. The position of the public defender throughout the litigation and later before the legislature was in support of the right to counsel. However the public defender’s office knew if the court did not hold a hearing to determine how the order could be carried out it would be financially and logistically impossible to do so.
The new legislation contains many criminal justice reforms such as requiring a police officer to charge a person by citation in lieu of arrest for most misdemeanors and establishing a task force to study policies relating to representation of indigent defendants (including the initial appearance before a commissioner).
These and other reforms in the new legislation, I am confident, will help to reduce pretrial detention in Maryland.