MD Case: Indigent Deserve Legal Help At Bail Hearings


Maryland violates the rights of the poor by failing to provide them with taxpayer-funded lawyers at bail hearings, charges a class action suit by the law firm Venable LLP reported by the Baltimore Sun. In Maryland, suspects make initial appearances before appointed district court commissioners, who decide whether to set bail, and, if so, how much it should be. No formal legal training is required to become a commissioner. “This lawsuit breaks new ground because it’s the first time a lawyer has argued that the right to counsel extends to the initial appearance,” said law Prof. Douglas Colbert of the University of Maryland.

Suspects who are not represented at bail hearings are “less likely to be released on their own recognizance, more likely to have higher and unaffordable bail, and more likely to [ ] pay the expense of a bail bondsman’s non-refundable fee to regain their freedom,” the suit says. “Prolonged detention of many of the arrestees detained in Central Booking is costly, wasteful and often unnecessary. The suit notes that prosecutors dismiss without trial or decline to prosecute 60 percent to 70 percent of the charges brought against Baltimore defendants. Colbert said he anticipates opposition from the bail bond industry because it profits from the current system. Bail for the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, who was arrested for a misdemeanor drug offense, was set at $25,000. His family had had to pay a bail bondsman a 10 percent nonrefundable fee, or $2,500, to secure his release.


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