Maryland Bail Reform: Does it Affect Your Case?
If you have been charged with a crime in Maryland, bail can mean the difference between awaiting trial in jail or at home. The recent passage by the Maryland Senate of a bill to change the bail process is leading to much confusion. However, bail reform is a long way from becoming a reality. Strong legal representation at your bail hearing is still a crucial asset if you want to stay out of jail.
On television, the bail hearing is usually a fractious process in which a judge makes a seemingly arbitrary decision. The reality is much different. Within 24 hours of being arrested in Maryland, you must be brought before a court commissioner who advises you of the charges against you and possible penalties you face. The commissioner makes one of three decisions regarding what happens next:
- You can be released on your own recognizance, which is your pledge to return to court at the time of your trial.
- Bail is set. To stay out of jail, you must give the court a specified amount of cash. If you do not have it, you may post a bond or property. If you fail to appear in court, your bail is forfeit and a warrant is issued for your arrest.
- Bail is denied and you are remanded to jail.
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution stipulates that bail may not be excessive. However, the commissioner has great discretion in setting the actual amount. If bail is too high, you can request a bail review. There, your attorney negotiates to get the bail amount reduced by convincing the court that you are neither dangerous nor a flight risk.
On March 31, the Maryland State Senate approved a measure to revamp the state’s bail system, implementing a computerized vetting system and removing the judge from the process — it still remains to be seen whether the bill will pass the House. In the meantime, if you are charged with a crime in La Plata or elsewhere in South Maryland, consult a criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and advocate for you in your bail hearing and throughout the subsequent phases of your case.