Not, ultimately, through the legislature but via the Court of Appeals’ rulemaking process. No longer may a defendant be held on bail when he or she does not have the ability to pay the bail amount.
Maryland’s highest court adopted a landmark rule Tuesday aimed at ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail.
The seven-member Court of Appeals unanimously agreed on a compromise that preserves money bail when it is the least onerous way to ensure a defendant appears for trial.
The rule won praise from both bail reform advocates and the bail bond industry, which felt threatened by the original proposal from the court’s rules committee.
The court’s action, which does not require legislative approval, largely accepts the legal reasoning of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. The state’s chief lawyer, a Democrat, issued advice last year that it is unconstitutional to hold a defendant in jail for no reason other than an inability to afford money bail.
Frosh said the courts must take into account the individual circumstances of each defendant rather than set bail based solely on the nature of the charge.
The court agreed that the new rule would take effect July 1.
Kudos to Brian Frosh for providing the impetus to make this happen and to the Court of Appeals for getting it done. I’ll have a more detailed analysis after I get my hands on the text of the new rule.
A good day for Maryland’s criminal justice system and those of us who’ve fought for years to make it better.