Maryland’s highest court adopted a landmark rule aimed at ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail, reports the Baltimore Sun. The seven-member Court of Appeals unanimously okayed a compromise that does not abolish money bail, as some advocates have urged, but instructs judges and court commissioners to look first to other ways to ensure a defendant appears for trial.
Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera called the final language “the best possible proposed rule we can expect when we’re working with all stakeholders.” 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. “Certainly there’s a consensus that the lack of money should not keep someone in jail before they have a trial,” said law Prof. Douglas Colbert of the University of Maryland and a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform. Nicholas Wachinski, representing bondsmen, said the rule keeps the option of money bail. “It preserves judicial discretion and allows judges to be judges,” he said.