Last week, Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled that two defendants were wrongfully assessed bail in amounts that exceeded their ability to pay, the Daily Record reports. This bail rule which went into effect July 1, 2017, requires judges to consider non-financial pretrial conditions before setting bail. In 2016, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh sent a letter to legislators stating that imposing bail beyond the means of low-income defendants could be considered unconstitutional. Last week’s ruling is a sign that courts are enforcing the rule.
Pretrial reform is a key priority for OSI-Baltimore. Since 2016, we have convened the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland, a group of fourteen community, advocacy, and academic groups focused on reforming the state’s bail system. The Open Society Policy Center, a non-partisan and non-profit advocacy group that is part of Open Society Foundations, is among the coalition members and Tara Huffman, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program, helped organize the effort.
We also released a report last January, “Steps in the Right Direction: Maryland Counties Leading the Way in Pretrial Services,” that describes successful pretrial programs in St. Mary’s County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore City.
In September, the Daily Record also reported on the 40 percent decline in the use of cash bail since the rule went into effect last summer. That article also indicated that the percentage of people who fail to appear in court has remained steady, data which disputes the idea that limiting cash bail threatens public safety.