Reformers say elimination of most cash bail for defendants has worked so far since it started on Jan. 1. Some local police and prosecutors object to the release of suspects they wanted to keep behind bars. County officials are unhappy about the price tag.
The possibly record-setting figure probably will be challenged under the Eighth Amendment protection against excessive bail. It far exceeds the $3 billion bond once set for New York real estate heir Robert Durst, which was lowered to $450,000.
Under a constitutional amendment, the state’s judges are now considering defendants’ flight risk and threat to public safety rather than using cash bail. The bail bond industry says the system is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.
The industry has given lawmakers nearly $300,000 since 2011, says Common Cause Maryland. State Attorney General Brian Frosh has asked high court to ensure that people who are not a safety risk are not jailed just because they are poor.
Using validated, evidence-based risk assessment to guide pretrial release decisions instead of the current money bail system could produce $78 billion in savings and benefits nationally, contends the Pretrial Justice Institute in a new report.
The latest example is New Mexico, where bail reform was approved by 87 percent of voters last month. Judges will be barred from detaining low-risk arrestees who can’t make bail if they pose little danger and are likely to appear for future court dates.
Critics say courts in the state are punishing “the poor for being poor.” Legislators say their bills will reduce the number of people detained before trial and address the racial and economic disparities in the bail process. The bail industry will resist the proposal.