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New bail rules have mixed verdict

Maryland's Supreme Court imposed new rules liberalizing bail this month. When setting bail, judges must consider the accused's ability to pay and impose the least burdensome release terms on suspects who are not considered dangerous or a flight risk. The rules were unofficially implemented last fall.

These guidelines were intended to lower jail populations and address racial and economic inequality among incarcerated suspects. Starting July 1, defense attorneys may also challenge denial of bail because of the defendant's inability to pay.

Implementation was hampered because the legislature did not create pretrial services throughout Maryland. This is important because judges should utilize these services to assess whether defendants pose any risk and to provide drug treatment, supervision, home detention and other services. Critics say that purchase of ankle bracelets and other monitoring devices may be more expensive than bail in some cases.

Figures apparently reflect that more lower income defendants were released without bond while more risky defendants were refused bond. In May, 53 percent of suspects were released before trial on unsecured personal bond or on their own recognizance. This dropped to 47.5 percent last September. The percentage of those held without bond doubled from 7 to 15 percent over that period.

Almost 1,600 of 11,028 defendants, or 14.5 percent, failed to appear in court for their trial in January. This was a 5 percent increase from October last year and the highest since the court system began releasing this data in January of 2016. The failure to appear rate was higher in the first quarter of this year than the same period in 2016.

Proponents argue that more time is needed to collect data to reasonably asses the new rules and trends. The data also included defendants who did not appear for trial after being released without bond and those who were sentenced for a criminal conviction and did not go to a court hearing on probation violations or a criminal summons.

Source: The Washington Post, "Jury still out on Maryland's new bail rules," Ovetta Wiggins, July 5, 2017

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