There has much discussion in Maryland, and other jurisdictions, about pretrial release of persons charged with crimes and the setting of bail that poor people may not be able to afford. Under new Rules adopted in Maryland effective July 1, 2017, use of financial bond requirements before someone can be released is now a last resort. How the new rules work was explored in a recent reported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called Aaron Bradds and Samuel Hill v. Dionne Randolph, Warden.
The Court’s opinion begins by noting the principles that persons charged with crimes are presumed to be innocent, and should be released pending trial under proper conditions unless they are a flight risk or a danger. Relying on mostly financial conditions before release has had the effect of keeping in jail low-income or indigent people who cannot afford to post a cash or percentage bond, while wealthier persons can afford to get out before trial. The Court noted that the new Rules begin with the proposition that defendants should be released pretrial with conditions (preferably non-financial) if necessary.
The Rules require consideration of the individual circumstances of each defendant, including recommendations of pretrial release services, and such factors as the nature of the crime charged, the defendant’s criminal record history of appearing in court, ties to the community and financial situation. Unless release is on personal recognizance, the Rules direct that the least onerous conditions of release be imposed. Most significantly, judicial officers are now prohibited from setting financial conditions of release such as bail that a defendant cannot meet, and if bail is set the defendant must have a reasonable opportunity to be able to post bond.
These two cases involved defendants charged with numerous counts of burglary. They each had long records of convictions, and a previous history of failing to appear for court hearings on numerous occasions. The judicial officers, however, decided to release them but set bail at $50,000, with 10 percent cash, which neither defendant could afford. In ordering bail hearings for each defendant, the appellate Court noted that the officers would have been justified in just not releasing them pretrial.
The appellate Court found that having decided to allow their release, under the new Rules the judicial officers were required to impose the least burdensome conditions of release possible, and not use a high bail amount to keep them incarcerated prior to trial.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.