Will Maryland end the cash bail system?

Could 2017 be the year that Maryland ends the cash bail system? If so, that’s good news for many defendants in the state.

Currently, the cash bail system in Maryland works like this: Once you are arrested, you go before a judge who takes a look at the specific type of crime that you’re accused of committing and makes an assessment of the risk that you pose to society if you’re let out pending trial.

As long as the judge doesn’t believe that you pose a major risk to society if you’re released or there’s no law that prohibits bail for the alleged crime, the judge will set your bail at whatever he or she deems is appropriate.

In order to get out of jail while you wait for your trial, you have to either pay the full bail directly to the courthouse or up to 10 percent of that amount to a bondsman, who then pledges the rest on your behalf to the court. The bail is designed to guarantee that you show up for trial. If you pay the bail directly to the courthouse, you’ll get it back after your trial. If you pay a bondsman, that 10 percent is taken as his or her fee.

However, for the poor in Maryland, a $,5000 cash bail or a $500 payment to a bail bondsman can be equally out of reach. Critics say that this has gradually made justice a matter of who can afford to pay for it. Some poor defendants who are innocent will plead guilty in order to accept the prosecution’s offer of a deal that will get them out of jail faster than if they sit around waiting for a trial.

The consequences of this can be devastating. While it may get a defendant out of jail in the short-term, it can lead to life-long problems because that individual is forever haunted by a criminal conviction. The law makes no distinction between a guilty plea and a conviction.

Advocates are calling for an end to the process this year, citing figures collected from the public defender’s office that show that 37 percent of defendants are held on bail of $5,000 or less — simply because they are poor. During their wait for trial, they can lose job, relationships, homes, and custody of their children.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Money bail extract too high a toll,” Paul B. DeWolfe, Jan. 03, 2017

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