A college marijuana bust helped set Caryn York on a course to lead the coalition that persuaded Maryland’s legislature to uphold a new judiciary rule diminishing the role of money bail in determining who goes free and who stays in jail until trial, reports the Baltimore Sun. The 32-year-old advocate was a constant presence in the capitol, where she organized opposition to legislation the influential bail bond industry pushed to preserve the stature of money bail among pretrial release conditions. The legislature adjourned this week with the judiciary’s rule intact.
York and other advocates, including the majority of the Legislative Black Caucus, were opposed by an industry deeply involved in Maryland politics. A study released by Common Cause Maryland this year found that Maryland ranks third among states in bail bond industry campaign contributions, trailing only much larger California and Florida. Attorney General Brian Frosh issued an opinion that led the state’s highest court unanimously to approve a rule that told judges and court commissioners not to use bail as a means of keeping defendants in jail to ensure public safety. The court ruled, in effect, that if defendants are considered dangerous they should be held without bail and otherwise should be released with conditions designed to assure they will appear for trial. The court set up a hierarchy of options as conditions for pretrial release, and put cash bail at the bottom. That was this provision the industry tried to reverse through new legislation. York recalled her first year as a college student, when she was arrested while smoking marijuana with friends. She was “terrified” when she realized how the college misstep could have hurt her future career, and said the incident “opened my eyes up to the larger disparities in our criminal justice system.”