Is it the End of the Road for Bail Bonds in Maryland?

Bail bondsmen and bounty hunters in Maryland are crying foul, and for good reason.

A task force is considering major reforms to Maryland’s bail bonds system and recommending a pretrial risk assessment program that would essentially replace secured bail bonds.

The new recommendations were recently presented as part of a task force discussion in which members discussed their options for complying with a new court ruling that says attorneys must be present for all initial bail hearings in criminal cases. The Maryland Court of Appeals says this new ruling may end up costing the State of Maryland millions of dollars.

The task force recommends addressing this new ruling by replacing secured bonds with a tiered risk assessment that would rank criminal defendants according to their public safety risk and their likelihood of appearing in court.  In addition to the three-tiered system, the task force recommends the creation of a statewide pretrial services agency that would serve to supervise these defendants while on release.

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A Change to Maryland’s Bail Laws

Although the changes to Maryland’s laws are a long time in the making, the question remains whether the solution is through a risk assessment system and the elimination of the bail bond system.

Currently, the Maryland system is more than a bit flawed, as instead of appearing before a judge, criminal defendants must appear in front of a court commissioner (often times without a lawyer present), who has the authority to decide whether they will be released or thrown in jail; all without setting a bond.

A Solution or Just Another Problem?

The process is quick, due to the fact that most of the time there are no lawyers involved. But according to Maryland’s Court of Appeals, it is also unconstitutional. The new ruling now states that all criminal defendants must be awarded the presence of a lawyer. However, this new ruling has many concerned that it will cost the state tens of millions of dollars each year in state-funded lawyer fees.

Many experts estimate that the change to this Maryland law may require an additional 240 public defenders, which may come at a price tag of about $30 million each year. Further, prosecutors must also staff the hearings, resulting in more costs.

Lawmakers decided to appoint a task force to figure out a solution to the problem. The result: a recommendation to scrap the entire bail bonds system. Some say that the bail bonds system is an antiquated one that favors defendants with financial means and that bondsmen should never play a critical role in determining whether or not someone poses a danger to society.

Many lawmakers don’t see the elimination of the bail bond system as politically feasible at this point, although many others think that it should still be considered.

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